As Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment with responsibility for Natural Resources and Inland Fisheries I outlined, in the Seanad, the progress on the establishment of a support scheme for eel fishermen.
My Department has notified the European Commission of our intention to fund a support scheme for former eel fishermen who were impacted by the European-wide conversation measures necessitated by the serious decline in eel stocks a decade ago.
The latest scientific advice to my Department from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas confirms that the status of the eel remains critical and that all activity regarding silver eels, such as fishing, be kept as close to zero as possible.
Minister Denis Naughten and I fully understand and recognise the difficulties that the conservation measures resulted in and we have worked to progress the issue of support measures and have secured funding for such a measure.
The European Commission has been notified of our intention to proceed with the support scheme and consultation with the Revenue Commissioners has started this week.
Speech in Seanad:
Minister of State at the Department of Communications Climate Action and Environment:
The latest advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) in late 2017 is that “the status of eel remains critical and that all anthropogenic mortality (e.g. recreational and commercial fishing, hydropower, pumping stations, and pollution) affecting production and escapement of silver eels should be reduced to – or kept as close to – zero as possible. There is no change in the status of the stock as being critically endangered”.
In addition, the European eel remains on the United Nations “Red List of endangered species.
In response to the conservation imperative, the European Commission introduced EU regulation 1100/2007, requiring each Member State to implement an Eel Management Plan (EMP)
Ireland’s EMP was approved by the EU in 2009 under the Regulation. The plan outlined management actions aimed at reducing eel mortality and increasing silver eel escapement to the sea. These actions included a cessation of the commercial eel fishery and closure of the market, and mitigation of the impact of hydropower installations.
The impact of hydropower installations is addressed via a Trap and Transport (T&T) programme on the Shannon, Erne and Lee, managed by ESB Fisheries. This involves the capture of adult eels migrating to sea, transporting them around the hydro power installations and releasing them. In addition, elver traps are installed at all ESB hydropower stations to facilitate the upstream movement of juvenile eels.
Reviews, including public consultation, of the EMP measures were carried out in 2012 and 2015 and existing measures were continued. In addition, I have provided funding to IFI for a collaborative research initiative involving IFI scientists and a number of former eel fishermen to further develop national knowledge of the species and its medium to longer term potential for recovery. This 3 year scientific fishery was commenced in 2016.
Both I and Minister Naughten recognise fully the difficulty faced by eel fishermen. There is no property right attaching to public eel licences and, consequently, the issue of compensation is not relevant or appropriate, given that the closure of the fishery was applied for conservation reasons under the Fisheries Acts.
Notwithstanding this, we have progressed the issue of implementing support measures for eel fishermen and ensured that funding will be available for such a measure. It is intended that potential support payments would be disbursed annually over a three year period.
It will be appreciated that as Ireland’s EMP, and its conservation measures, was originally approved by the European Commission under EU Regulation 1100/2007, consultation and discussion with the European Commission is a key element in the consideration of any potential financial support measure.
I directed officials of the Department to contact the European Commission outlining Ireland’s objective to fund a support scheme for former eel fishermen. Initial responses have been received and I am advised that officials have now indicated to the Commission our intention to proceed with the measure.
Consultation is now required with the Revenue Commissioners and this is being commenced this week. Until consultations are completed, it is not appropriate to elaborate on the possible terms and conditions for, or the prospective number of participants in, any potential support measure.
Eel conservation measures were introduced in 2009 in Ireland’s Eel Management Plan under EU Regulation 1100/2007.
The background to this issue is important in understanding the challenges faced.
The European eel is a single, panmictic stock distributed from Southern Europe and the Mediterranean to Northern Norway and Iceland in the north, including the Baltic Sea. Unlike many other migrating fish, eels begin their lifecycle in the ocean and spend most of their lives in fresh water, returning to the ocean to spawn and then die.
The Sargasso Sea is the spawning ground for European eels. The new born juveniles drift towards Europe in a 300-day migration. When approaching the European coast, at the “glass eel” stage, they enter estuaries, and start migrating upstream. After entering fresh water, the glass eels become elvers.
After 5–50 years in fresh water, the eels become sexually mature. In this stage, the eels are known as “silver eels”, and they begin their migration back to the Sargasso Sea to spawn. Eels which enter warm water rivers and areas around the Mediterranean mature with 5 years, in colder northern water (Scandinavia) maturation can take up to 50 years. In Ireland and UK etc. in waters of moderate temperature the maturation period is 15-20 years.
Given the continent wide nature of the single stock it is important to consider international scientific advice in the management of the stock.