Incomes can adapt despite eel fishing being reeled in
Alternative options exist for our innovative food processors
Published 02/03/2010 | 05:00
Irish eel fishermen have been left without a source of income since a ban on eel fishing was introduced in January. We can now only wait and see how the populations of this mysterious creature behave, but in the meantime, it appears that the people who depended on catching eels for their livelihoods will have to seek alternative employment.
European eels have one of the most fascinating life cycles on earth. They begin life as leaf-shaped larvae in the Sargasso Sea and then make an amazing trans-Atlantic migration to the freshwater rivers of Europe. There, they will then grow and can often reach one metre in length and live for up to 30 years. During their bizarre life cycle they undergo several changes in body shape, beginning as transparent larvae that can drift easily in ocean currents. Travelling in the Gulf Stream they arrive in coastal waters, a journey that can take three years, during which they slim and become the tiny transparent eels known as glass eels or elvers. They then migrate upstream to freshwater, often climbing waterfalls and rock faces and, during this time, change colour and become brown with yellow bellies. On returning to the sea they become silver, presumably for camouflage, and their eyes enlarge.
Eels have been something of a mystery for thousands of years and, even today, much about their life remains unsolved.
Aristotle carried out the first known research on eels and believed they were born of earth worms and emerged from mud with no fertilisation needed.
Despite further research in the 1800s, it was not until 1904 that it was discovered that they originated in the Sargasso Sea -- but their spawning could not be observed. How they manage the 6,000km journey back to their spawning grounds is still largely unknown. Eels have been eaten by man for centuries and in Europe we consume around 25m kilogrammes each year. This is surpassed by the Japanese who get through around 100m kilogrammes a year. In the mid-1980s numbers of eels dropped dramatically, possibly due to a parasitic infection thought to have originated from eel farms in Asia.
Millions of eels are also killed annually when trying to cross hydro-electric dams and a ban on eel fishing was introduced in Ireland early this year. This has caused major hardship to our eel fishermen. The value of eel exports exceeded €1m, with the ESB alone catching more than €500,000 worth of stock at their dams.
The ban will remain until 2012 when the situation will be reassessed, but in the meantime the people who made their living from this previously abundant source of food will have to find other employment.
One man affected by the ban is John Rogan, from Corry Lane, Rathowen, Co Westmeath. John caught eels in the River Inny for many years and had built up a thriving business selling smoked eel to outlets throughout Ireland.