Eels are an endangered species and recognised by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as in need of protection. Fishing for elvers is allowed in England and Wales, but under strict conditions to ensure stocks are not over-exploited.
The elver season runs from 15 February to 25 May 2016 inclusive and is largely limited to the Rivers Parrett and Tone. There are approximately 200 licenced elver fishermen in Somerset who must register with the Environment Agency at the start of the season.
Sustainable fishing includes the capture of elvers for restocking in countries across Northern Europe where eel stocks have declined and cannot be replenished naturally.
All elver fishing in Somerset is done with hand held nets known as ‘dip nets’. They are restricted in size to 1 metre long, 0.8m wide and 0.45m deep. Handle lengths should be no longer than 3 metres. Fishing from boats is prohibited and no other large nets or traps are allowed. As a further precaution, all nets must be tagged and fishermen need to carry photographic ID with them.
To protect stocks, no fishing is permitted within 10 metres of any river obstruction, dam, inlet, outlet or fish pass that hinders the passage of elvers. A full list of rules can be found in the elver fishing bylaws.
Richard Deamley for the Environment Agency said:
We recognise the majority of elver fishermen operate responsibly and respect the law. We work closely with the police in detecting illegal fishing and, where we have evidence, won’t hesitate to prosecute offenders.
Call 0800 555 111 to report information on environmental crime anonymously. Any illegal or suspicious activity can be reported to the Environment Agency or Crime Stoppers.