Why fishermen can't move millions of baby eels from part of River Severn

  • Watch Ken Goodwin's report

Fishermen say that there's a glut of baby eels migrating up the River Severn - but they claim strict new rules mean they can't carry out conservation work.

In the past, the number of elvers has dwindled. But for several years there has been an increase, culminating in millions of the so-called 'glass eels' appearing in the river this spring.

Fishermen, who have to pay a fee to catch the eels, say increasingly strict rules mean that they cannot sell them, move them, or even release them as a conservation measure to restock other parts of the River Severn and its tributaries which the eels cannot reach because of man-made obstacles like weirs.

Any elvers the fisherman catch have to be put back into the water exactly where they were caught.

An elver fisherman releasing thousands of elvers - baby eels - back into the River Severn. Credit: ITV News

When ITV News West Country joined elver fishermen on the banks of the River Severn at Maisemore near Gloucester they said they believe the intention of the Environment Agency is to stop them fishing altogether.

"We are slowly being stopped from elvering," one fisherman said. "Loads more rules are being put in place to stop us."

The fishermen scooped up thousands of elvers in their traditional hand nets - a tradition they say has been past down through generations.

The group see elver fishing as part of their cultural heritage, something done by their fathers and their grandfathers.

A bucket containing thousands of elvers. They have to be released back into the river where they were caught. Credit: ITV News

"I’ve been elvering for 40 years and it’s in our blood," one said. "We're river fishermen, so elvering, it’s just another extension of the fishing season."

Another pointed out that eating elvers has been a long tradition in Gloucester.

"They are not even letting us eat them - unless we do so on the river bank. We can’t fish properly for them, and we’re being stopped from everything we’re doing.

"We can't take them home. And yet there are millions in the river. Most of which will die when they reach the weir at Tewkesbury and can't get any further.

"They've installed eel passes, (for the eels to swim up) but hardly any of the elvers use it."

Elver fishermen say they are determined to continue with a kind of fishing that they regard as their cultural heritage. Credit: ITV News

The Environment Agency told ITV News it does not want to stop elver fishing.

Chris Bainger from the agency said it has been a good year for elvers, with many of them growing bigger than in previous years with more of them all together.

He said while many of them will die, they will add valuable nutrients to the river and provide food for other fish and birds.

But he said that for some reason adult eels are not surviving in the numbers they should, and this is a worry.

Chris Bainger from the Environment Agency.

He added: "The Environment Agency and Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) are not out there trying to close the fishery down. But we need to make sure we manage that fishery in the most sustainable way." 

"We'd like an association, like there is in other parts of the system like Bristol, if we can get together an association of elver fishermen and work with them, and have a really clear re-stocking plan, with monitoring and they could be part of that monitoring."