I can inform the Deputy that this is a European wide shared eel stock where the sexually maturing eels leave European shores to spawn in the Saragossa Sea and the new generation return as glass eels to the European coastline. The International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) indicated that the European Eel stock is at an all-time historic low and continues to decline. The returning juvenile eels are at between 1-10% of the levels pre-1980.
The eel has a long life cycle - 18 years on average - and the legacy of poor recruitment still has to work through the system and the generations with further declines likely in the medium term. Consequently adequate stock recovery is a longer term goal.
The factors identified as being likely contributors to declining stocks include fisheries, turbine mortality, loss of habitat and also contaminants of eel and introduced parasites. The parasite (Anguillicola ) which infects the swim bladder was introduced into Europe in the late 1970s from Asia and was introduced into Ireland in the 1980s. I am advised that it is highly probable that the parasite will hinder recovery. Management measures will focus on reducing any further spread of the parasite and any stocking which may be considered should avoid as much as possible waters that contain the parasite.
Factors in the ocean may also be influencing the number and quality of spawners reaching the Sargasso Sea to breed and the numbers of glass eel subsequently returning to the coast of Europe.
The EC Regulation (Council Regulation 1100/2007) for the recovery of the European eel stock required Member States to establish Eel Management Plans (EMPs) for implementation in 2009. The objective of each EMP is to reduce anthropogenic mortalities so as to permit with high probability the escapement to the sea of at least 40 % of the silver eel biomass relative to the best estimate of escapement that would have existed if no anthropogenic influences had impacted the stock. The EMPs are required to be prepared with the purpose of achieving this objective.
Under the EC Regulation, Ireland is required to monitor the eel stock, evaluate current silver eel escapement and post-evaluate implemented management actions aimed at reducing eel mortality and increasing silver eel escapement. The Irish EMP, submitted to the EU in January 2009 and accepted by the EU in June 2009, outlined the main management actions aimed at reducing eel mortality and increasing silver eel escapement to the sea. The EMP included two cross-border agreements, with the Neagh Bann IRBD rivers flowing into Carlingford Lough from the Republic of Ireland and into Dundalk Bay being reported in a plan for the Eastern RBD (the Eastern Eel Management Unit) and one transboundary eel management plan in respect of the North Western IRBD and prepared by the then Northern Regional Fisheries Board, the Loughs Agency and Department of Culture Arts and Leisure (DCAL).
The four main management actions in the Irish Eel Management Plan were as follows; cessation of the commercial eel fishery and closure of the market mitigation of the impact of hydropower, including a comprehensive trap and transport plan to be funded by the ESB ensure upstream migration of juvenile eel at barriers, and improvement of water quality. The Irish EMP also outlined a national monitoring programme for sampling catch and surveys of local eel stocks. Appropriate scientific assessment monitors the implementation of the plans.
Given the implications of the scientific advice, the consideration of practical management implications and the conservation and recovery imperative (contingent upon commensurate actions across Europe), the precautionary approach was adopted in accordance with the recommendations of the National Eel Working Group and the eel fishery was ceased.
In 2012, a review of the management of Eel in Ireland was undertaken as required by the EU regulation, including full scientific evaluation and a public consultation conducted by Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI). As part of this consultation many issues were raised and considered, full details of the outputs of the public consultation are available via the IFI website. The review of scientific and management advice and inputs from the public consultation resulted in a decision to continue with the cessation of the commercial eel fishery and closure of the market for the period from 2012 to 2015. Ireland’s eel management plan will be reviewed again in 2015.
In relation to the EU Parliament, I understand that Swedish Green MEP Isabella Lovin proposed amendments to the EU regulation. However, as there is a scheduled review of all Member States Management plans being undertaken by the EU Commission in collaboration with the ICES/EIFAAC Eel Working Group, the Parliament concluded that any changes should be based on the results of this review. This review will take into account the management actions proposed by Member States and the actions that were undertaking during the years 2009 to 2011. It is expected that a response from the Eel Working Group and the EU Commission will be available in 2014.
The UK Management plan contains a combination of stocking glass eels, reduced fishing seasons, reducing the effects of barriers by installing eel passes and the introduction of screenings at installations. The review by the EU Commission will evaluate the UK management plans. Advice from the ICES Eel Working Group 2012 report recommends an EU-wide approach to assessing stocking and determining the net benefit to the stock. Stocking is not included as a management action in Ireland’s eel management plan and surplus elver recruits were not identified in the 2009-2011 period to facilitate a stocking programme and it is not envisaged to purchase foreign glass eel during the next three years.