Press release

Eel-y good information gathered in surveys

Work ongoing to halt the decline in eel populations

Environment Agency officer holding an eel
Environment Agency officers are carrying out the surveys to help halt eel decline

Vital surveys to monitor the endangered eel in the River Wear are being carried out by the Environment Agency.

Officers found 138 eels in 100m at Finchale Priory recently – which is noted as being one of the best sites in the area for eels.

It’s one of 10 sites on the River Wear which are surveyed every 2 years to assess local stocks. The numbers are consistent with previous surveys carried out in the area.

European Eels have been in decline all over Europe over the past 30 years with the number of elvers (young eels) migrating into European rivers falling to less than 5% of 1980s levels.

This decline has put the eel on the endangered list and made it the subject of new European legislation which requires member states to implement Eel Management Plans to reverse the decline in the number of adult eels returning to the sea.

Eels are long lived, living in freshwater for more than 15 to 20 years before migrating to sea to spawn in the Sargasso sea.

The Environment Agency’s Fisheries Technical Officer Robbie Stevenson said:

It’s not known exactly why there’s been such a dramatic decline but things which could have impacted include barriers to migration, damage associated with abstractions, disease, pollution and being eaten by predators.

We’ve been creating new eel passes and removing obstructions from watercourses to make it easier for them to migrate as well as working with other partners to help reduce impacts on eel. Important monitoring such as this means we can assess the ongoing situation.

But it will take several eel generations before it’s known if measures put in place now will have an impact in the future.

Finchale Priory is one of 10 sites on the River Wear which are surveyed every 2 years to assess local stocks. 10 sites on the River Coquet are also surveyed every 2 years at alternate years to the Wear.

Did you know…?

  • All eel over 30cm are female
  • Eel determine which sex they will become once they reach 10-15cm, depending on how many other eel of each species are present in the population
  • Both the ancient Greeks and Egyptians believed that eels may be gods
  • Aristotle believed that young eel were born from horse hairs, mainly due to the fact that a spawning eel had never been seen and that ‘baby’ eels had never been found
  • All European eel are regarded as a single stock, spawning takes place in the Sargasso Sea, in the Caribbean
  • Young eels are carried on the ocean currents and take 2 years to reach Europe, where they enter freshwater to grow.
Published 17 July 2015