With the traditional pike season fast approaching the National Anguilla Club has this week issued a plea for predator anglers to stop using eels as bait.
Despite laws aimed to protect the species – in England and Wales it is an offence to remove them from freshwater, estuaries or inshore waters up to a distance of six nautical miles – they are still exploited for commercial gain and eel stocks are believed to be as low as five per cent of average levels in the 1970s.
NAC General Secretary Andrea O'Sullivan said: "There has been some debate over whether anglers ceasing to use dead eels as bait will make any difference to the overall impact of commercial fishing. However, this is about anglers standing together and raising awareness of the issue within our own community. We are also planning other initiatives aimed at improving the conservation of the European Eel."
The call has been supported by the Pike Anglers Club of Great Britain, the Pike Anglers Alliance for Scotland and the Catfish Conservation Group who have united in issuing a recommendation to their members asking them not to use eels, particularly when there are so many sea and freshwater species which can be used without any negative impact on their overall populations.
PAC general secretary Alan Dudhill said: “It would be wrong of us to condone the use of a ‘critically endangered species’ as bait for catching pike. We have urged our members to consider the history, life-cycle and plight of the eel when deciding whether or not to use them as bait. Eels are in fact rarely used by pike anglers but where mitten crabs and signal cray fish are present they are often the bait of choice.
“The main issue here is the continued commercial netting, export and exploitation of eels by the food industry. How can this be allowed to continue even though the eel was registered by CITIES as being critically endangered a number of years ago? We should all be prepared to join forces to protect our fish and sport.”
Earlier this year the Angling Trust stated that commercial eel fishing was simply not sustainable and called for an end to the practice.