Guidance to Members – Use of Freshwater Eels as Bait
Today, pike and predator anglers have a wide choice of both sea and freshwater baits to choose from. Historically the European Eel (Anguilla anguilla) has been one of the options available. However, the eel has now been officially listed by CITIES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) as a ‘critically endangered species’ and, on that basis the PAC wishes to discourage their continued use as bait. These guidance notes have been produced in order to raise awareness of the facts surrounding the conservation status of the European Eel, and to provide guidance to our members.
The Freshwater Eel (Anguilla Anguilla)
The life cycle of the European Eel is particularly fascinating. Spawning takes place in the Sargasso Sea some 6000km away. The young elvers are carried to our shores by the Gulf Stream, a long & hazardous journey, which takes some 3 years to complete. The elvers then mature in freshwater, moving through our river systems, sometimes along ditches, drains and even underground springs. Some also find their way into still waters.
Their journey is a perilous one as eels are a source of food for predatory fish, birds and mammals. Eels are also considered a delicacy in certain parts of the world and many are trapped and exported to meet the demand for human consumption. Eel populations are under ever-increasing pressure from commercial fishing and as a consequence, only a small proportion survive to reach maturity.
Those eels that avoid capture and are able to grow on in freshwater; some staying in our lakes and rivers for many decades and reaching sizes we would regard as specimens. These fish are a rare and worthy quarry, and deserve our utmost respect. The oldest recorded eel reached a remarkable 84 years of age.
Upon maturity, and given the opportunity, the adult eel once again undertakes the epic journey back to the Sargasso Sea where it spawns and then dies.
Eel population, the facts
The Environment Agency has carried out surveys of fish stocks in England and Wales for many years but, as eels were once considered plentiful, they were not included in the surveys. As a consequence, accurate figures for their numbers are not available. However, there has clearly been a massive decline in the eel population, not just here but throughout Europe, and stocks are thought to be as low as 5% of average levels in the 1970s.
Over the last 30 years environmental change is believed to have affected the number of elvers arriving from the Atlantic, and further decline has resulted from stocks then being over-exploited for commercial gain. The rapidly declining population has also been under increasing pressure from other sources, including the destruction of habitat and the creation of barriers to the passage of fish throughout river systems.
Recommendation to members
It would be wrong of us to condone the use of a ‘critically endangered species’ as bait for catching pike. The facts speak for themselves and confirm the need for us to take this matter seriously and be considerate of the plight of other coarse fish, particularly in cases where we can contribute in a positive way to their conservation.
Our actions often have a positive effect on other angling disciplines, species and the wider environment. This matter involves all these factors, which therefore makes it appropriate that we address this issue in a responsible & sympathetic manner.
Considering all of the above, the PAC would recommend that our members do not use eels as bait, regardless of their source, until such times as their population shows a significant increase or they are removed from the endangered list.
We would like all our members to support this decision based on the factual information above, including the complexities of the eel’s life cycle and present threats. Consider it’s CITIES status as a ‘critically endangered species’ and position within our environment as a respected predator and valued sporting fish, in much the same way as we consider the pike.
This document is issued for guidance purposes, and may be updated or rescinded, as appropriate and as such does not constitute a change in our Codes of Conduct.
Alan Dudhill, Former PAC General Secretary (2112)
This document was produced in association with The National Anguilla Club (NAC)
Sources of further information
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITIES): www.cites.org
The Angling Trust: www.anglingtrust.net
Fish Legal: www.fishlegal.net
The National Anguilla Club (NAC): www.nationalanguillaclub.co.uk