Press release

Military grade underwater cameras working to end illegal fishing for eels in the Fens

Environment Agency fisheries enforcement staff are using new underwater sonar technology to tackle illegal fishing for eels in the Fens.

Sonar image of an eel 'Fyke' net
Sonar image of an eel 'Fyke' net

Fisheries enforcement staff at the Environment Agency have been using innovative underwater sonar technology to help protect an endangered species.

The sonar equipment is used to assess fish populations, especially where it’s hard to use classic methods like netting and electric fishing.

It is also being used to regulate areas of illegal fishing, including poaching, netting and trapping, as part of the fisheries enforcement work, funded by rod licence money.

A recent audit of a river near King’s Lynn resulted in a record illegal eel net seizure; 16 nets in total, capable of significantly impacting an emigrating eel population. The nets were removed, enabling hundreds of eels to be released, and Norfolk police is investigating the case.

Kye Jerrom, Environment Agency fisheries specialist in East Anglia, said:

Using boat mounted sonar equipment we can travel up to 10km per day, checking every inch of channel for illegal and submerged equipment. This is our greatest weapon in halting the illegal exploitation of eels and gives us a chance to completely rid waters of illegal instruments.

The Environment Agency leads on the enforcement of permits for migratory species like eels, smelt and lamprey. Regular auditing of these fisheries is essential to ensure protection of these iconic and in the case of eel – a critically endangered species; but also to ensure that the activity is regulated and sustainable. With the eel stock in decline and exploitation of the stock being currently unsustainable, the EA work to protect their habitat, improve access for them further upstream and regulate other activities that might impact on each life stage of the species.

In the East the fens provide excellent habitat for mature eels. Adult “silver” eels will return to the Sargasso Sea as their final life stage to spawn and much of the enforcement work protects this phase.

Anyone fishing for eels should be permitted, be fishing within the conditions of the licence, and nets must include visible and valid tags, as well as being equipped with otter guards too.

Any suspected illegal fishing activity should be reported to the Environment Agency’s Incident Hotline on 0800 80 70 60.

Anyone wishing to fish for migratory species including eels should visit Permission to trap crayfish, eels, elvers, salmon and sea trout.

All anglers need a valid Environment Agency rod licence which can be bought using a credit or debit card by calling the Environment Agency’s telesales line on 0344 800 5386. Alternatively, they can be obtained from any Post Office or visit: Buy a rod fishing licence

Published 14 March 2018