Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Time running out for the eel, Minister warns

Eels are on the brink of extinction, Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw said today.

The stark warning came after what he described as “disasterous” talks in Brussels at which France, Spain and Italy blocked conservation measures which would have countered illegal catches and given stocks of both eels and tuna a chance to recover.

Mr Bradshaw said stocks of the once-common eel were now believed to have become 99 per cent depleted.

“I am bitterly disappointed that the EU has again failed to take the action needed to protect tuna and eels,” said Mr Bradshaw.

“Eels are on the brink of extinction, bluefin tuna on the verge of collapse. We have been talking about both for several years and marine scientists say only urgent and radical action can save both species.

“This failure seriously damages the credibility of the EU on the environment. It is repeatedly failing to take vital action to tackle the marine environment because of the refusal of a number of member states to do anything except exactly what their fishermen ask.”

There is no practical way of shutting down eel-fishing waters because of their transatlantic migration patterns.

Proposals to make netsmen contribute a proportion of the eels they catch to restocking programmes collapsed after determined opposition from the French Agriculture Minister Dominique Bussereau.

Mr Bradshaw said: “The decline of the eel in the past three decades has been catastrophic and the state of the population is dire.”

Conservationists say a Europe-wide strategy is needed. But netsmen can earn up to £1,000 a night catching elvers or glass eels.