Environment Agency prefer data collection to restocking

I had just finished the August newsletter. It had a bit about how the Olympics had affected business in London, how we were planning a few end of season eel releases to mark the end of our Tanks in Schools scheme, and also a bit about how we would be appearing at the Abergavenny Food Festival. But then I received a letter from the Environment Agency refusing permission for one of our eel releases and I got very angry, in fact so angry that the newsletter is in the bin and this is the start of new one.

When you enter into a partnership with people as we have done with the Sustainable Eel Group we all have our different views and opinions and compromises have to be made. The Environment Agency is a key member of this group as it is ultimately responsible for the management of the UK’s inland waterways. Other members of the group include the Zoological Society of London, the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, independent scientists, conservationists, fishermen, farmers and processors. We all have one thing in common - eel welfare and the preservation of this fish stock.

One of the eel’s greatest problems is that as a result of our approach to water containment we have blocked the elvers' escape route from tidal waters. As elvers travel in on tidal water, sluice gates close clapper gates on storm drains shut and all those traditional exits that the elvers once passed through are closed. As a result over 95% of elvers that enter our tidal river system die in tidal water. The EA’s solution to the problem is eel passes and barrier removal which in most circumstances is impossible as we have drained and built on most of our rivers’ flood plains and the consequences of flooding would be a step too far. We commend the EA for the efforts they are making but we believe, like many other European countries, that restocking is the solution.

By lifting elvers stuck in tidal water and transferring them to water further upstream, onto another river, or ideally onto a nursery wetland their survival chances are hugely increased. At this stage I ought to reveal that the EA has NO policy for restocking and does NOT actively take part in ANY restocking projects in the UK. We came up with our own restocking scheme several years ago which involved putting tanks into schools for children to feed elvers for release back into the wild. The beauty of the scheme was that it was educational, immediate, proactive and understandable. The scheme has grown from 2 schools to over 40 schools this year and by the end of the year we will have released about 120,000 elvers. The project, we estimate, is responsible for releasing 250,000 elvers to date. Using education as part of a restocking programme also has the added effect of increasing the awareness of future custodians of the river bank; it’s a no brainer really. So when I tell you that on seeking permission from the EA for a release of 2,000 elvers into the upper reaches of the Thames my permission was denied because it would interfere with their data collection, I can only hope that you understand my dismay. No forget that, ANGER. How can data collection (they’re very good at that) override the principles of a restocking programme? Nobody seems to be able to explain that one to me, especially the EA.

We will not let these events sour our end of season celebration with a big planned release on Llangorse Lake on the eve of the Abergavenny Food Festival (14th September), and at the Olympic Park (date to be arranged) after the Olympics has concluded. We plan, after these releases, to have a BBQ at each event and extend a warm welcome to all those who have been involved in the scheme and those that would like to get involved and help us expand the scheme in 2013.

Perhaps our time as members of the Sustainable Eel Group has run its course, we have never felt entirely comfortable sitting at the table with some members who advocate the fishing of adult eels in designated sustainable rivers (never really understood that theory). We still (and have done for the last 8 years) believe that the only eel that should be used for eating are those that have been farmed.