Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Questions (376)

Luke 'Ming' Flanagan


376. Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will consider reopening commercial eel fishing in areas that are above conservation limits; his views that eel fishing is part of rural life and a continued total ban will result in the loss of the living heritage; if he will commission an impact study on those affected and the possibility of linking sustainable traditional fisheries to heritage tourism and sea food projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5098/14]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

Ireland's Eel Management Plan (EMP) was accepted by the EU in 2009 under the 2007 EU Eel regulation (1100/2007). The plan outlined the following main management actions aimed at reducing eel mortality and increasing silver eel escapement to the sea: a cessation of the commercial eel fishery and closure of the market, mitigation of the impact of hydropower installations, ensure upstream migration of juvenile eel at barriers, improvement of water quality. The overall requirement and objective is to provide, with high probability, a long-term 40% escapement to the sea of the biomass of silver eel, relative to pristine conditions (i.e. if the stock had been completely free of man-made influences including commercial fishing).

Based on comprehensive scientific assessment of eel stocks nationally and a review of Ireland’s EMP in 2012 it was recommended that the closure of both the commercial and recreational eel fisheries be continued in line with the conservation imperative. The 2012 review included a robust public consultation during which many issues were raised and considered. Full details of the outputs of the public consultation are available on the Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) web site. Similar reviews were carried out across the EU as the eel stock is endangered throughout Europe.

The International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) advised in 2011, that glass eel recruitment had fallen to 5% of their 1960-1979 level in the Atlantic region and precariously less than 1% in the North Sea area. The very latest ICES advice (2013) indicates that the annual recruitment of glass eel to European waters has increased marginally over the last two years to 1.5% of 1960-79 levels in the North Sea area, and to 10% in the Atlantic area. The overall ICES advice is that the indices remain at very low levels compared with historical catches.

In Ireland, scientific studies also show that recruitment has been declining since the mid-1980s, for example in the 2000-2011 period, the glass eel catch in the Shannon was at 2% of the pre-1980 level. The scientific advice both internationally and from Ireland's scientists on the independent Standing Scientific Committee (SSC) for Eels does not support any assertion that stocks "are above conservation limits” and the status of the European Eel in Ireland has been defined by the United Nations as critically endangered.

While I recognize fully the difficulty facing eel fishermen, the review of scientific and management advice and inputs from the public consultation informed 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 EMP will be reviewed again next year and an opportunity for further consultation with stakeholders will be advanced at that time. I understand that a number of former eel fishermen have been contracted by the ESB to catch eel so as to contribute to "Trap and Transport" operations to mitigate the impact of hydropower schemes as part of the EMP.