Ryan signs controversial eel ban into law


A CONTROVERSIAL ban on eel fishing has been signed into law by Minister for Energy, Communications and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan.

The bylaws close the commercial and recreational eel fishery until June, 2012 and Mr Ryan has promised that they will be reviewed at this stage.

The new “management plan” involves ceasing the commercial eel fishery, closing the market and ensuring upstream migration of juvenile eels at barriers.

It also involves improving the water quality in eel habitats, and “mitigating” the impact of hydro-electric power on stocks, Mr Ryan said.

“The ESB, as part of their implementation of the eel management plan, will advertise for tenders next week to undertake trap and transport operations,” Mr Ryan said. It is understood that the Government hopes to appease eel fishermen by employing them in some of these trap and transport programmes.

Eels are a common EU resource, spending part of their lives in freshwater and part in the ocean. In contrast to fellow migrants, the salmon and sea trout, eels spawn in the Sargasso Sea and return to rivers and lakes to feed and grow.

Several years ago, the European Commission directed member states to draw up management plans, based on ensuring 40 per cent of eel “biomass” escaped to the sea.

However, eel catchers have reacted angrily to a complete ban on fishing here, stating that a combination of factors, including hydro-electricity and pollution, had led to stock depletion.

Ireland is attempting to be “an over-zealous” EU member state in imposing the ban when other EU counterparts are not, according to the Shannon Eel Fishermen’s Association.

The Basque country in Spain is also proposing a ban on its river system, and restricting elver harvests in estuaries.

About 100 tonnes of eel is harvested in the State by some 295 eel license holders, and the total value of the catch is between €0.5 million and €0.75 million. The ban will apply on the Shannon, Corrib and Lough Erne, but will not affect the island’s largest eel fishery on Lough Neagh.