Accelerating the recovery of the European Eel

Zac Goldsmith MP and Lord de Mauley support week of SEG restocking

Thousands of elvers restocked by Zac Goldsmith MP and Lord de Mauley, Environment Minister

90+ million juvenile eels rescued & re-homed across Europe


A massive conservation mission to relocate more than 90 million critically endangered European eels peaked this week, first with Zac Goldsmith MP introducing 10,000 juvenile eels into the River Thames in front of Parliament, and then Environment Minister Lord de Mauley introduced 10,000 into the River Coln, at the top of the Thames river basin district.

After decades of decline, scientists and fishermen have been stunned to see the number of eels arriving from the Sargasso Sea increase dramatically in the last five years, and particularly in the last two.

AThe number arriving in the River Severn this year has been 30x higher than 2009 (30 million caught in 2014 vs 1 million in 2009). Similar increases have been seen in Ireland, Holland and the Bay of Biscay.

The majority of young eels (‘elvers’) caught in the River Severn and other south west estuaries have been relocated (‘restocked’) either upriver or to other rivers and wetlands in the UK and continental Europe. Historically these were reachable by the elvers on their natural migration – but are now blocked by barriers and flood defences.

In March, elvermen on the River Parrett in Somerset smashed restocking records by catching and donating 1.2 million elvers in one night – all of which were moved upriver, past barriers, to fertile wetlands in the Somerset Levels.

In total this year, 15 million elvers have been restocked in the UK and Ireland, compared to 4 million last year. And across Europe – the total is more than 90 million, up from 43 million last year (see table below).

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Andrew Kerr, Chairman of the Sustainable Eel Group (SEG), said “2014 has been a great year for eels. Billions of juvenile eels have arrived in the west coast estuaries of Europe, prompting a massive human effort to move them over barriers and into more suitable wetland habitat across the rest of the Continent. Eels have been moved from places where they are now super abundant to places in Europe where they can no longer reach.

“The huge increase in numbers has been a surprise – albeit a very welcome one – but it’s too early to talk of a recovery of this critically endangered species. Across Europe we are focusing on developing sustainable practices which will accelerate and then maintain the recovery of the eel population.”

Zac Goldsmith MP introducing 10,000 juvenile eels into the River Thames in front of Parliament.By Lucy Young / Goldsmith MP said “It’s very encouraging to see so many people uniting to help the eel population recover. Thanks to the huge numbers of glass eels arriving here, this year’s eel relocation programme has been the biggest the UK has ever seen and I applaud the conservationists, collector organisations and elvermen and women who have made it happen.

“I also agree with SEG that there is a lot more work to do. Moving eels past barriers in trucks and planes is not a lasting solution – and a lot more needs to be done to help eels and other fish move freely into and through our rivers and waterways.

“The UK is leading the way, with over 600 barriers removed or modified to assist fish passage in the last 3 years by the Environment Agency, The Rivers Trusts and other organisations, setting an exemplary pace for others to follow.”

LLord de Mauley joined members of the Sustainable Eel Group and the Ernest Cook Trust to re-home 10,000 elvers into the River Coln near Fairford in Gloucestershire. The River Coln is ideal habitat for the eels, and gives them free movement around the very top of the Thames river basin district.

Lord de Mauley said “Record numbers of elvers have arrived on our western shores this year, prompting a massive human rescue effort to move them past barriers to the habitats that they’re struggling to reach in order to grow and mature. It’s a welcome return of a species that is critically endangered, and I am pleased that so much is being done in the UK to help the eel populations recover.”

IMG_1157As always, SEG is very grateful for all the support we received from our partners including Lord de Mauley, Mr Goldsmith and his team, the Fishmonger’s Company, the Environment Agency, the team at Crown River cruises, the Ernest Cook Trust, and the media.

IMG_1144Elver restocking totals across Europe so far this year:

2014 (million) 2013 (million)
Germany 20 15
France 23 12
UK & Ireland 15 4
Sweden 3 3
Holland 12 3
Denmark 2 2
Belgium 1 1
Czech Republic 5
Poland 3
Estonia 3
Others 4 3
Total 90 43
  • All numbers are approximations based on weight in kg