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France.

At this time of the year we are normally focused on the start of the season at our French Depot. This year it is slightly different by “sheer coincidence” my trial in France for the alleged export of glass eels to Asia was one day after the season stated. It has proved to be the nearest you can get to a show trial in a western democracy. I attach an unbiased report from the local newspaper. This was significantly different to the way that I was viewed by the prosecution in the court.  I suspect that the outcome for the court decision for December 14th has already made.

The French Season

The French season for us started on the 15 November. It has been a quiet start on the Atlantic coast of France. Very few glass eels, Prices on the river bank for consumption are between 400 and 450 euros per kg.  Very similar to last year.  Most of the fisherman do not plan to start fishing before the end of December.  The last few months have been very dry, and the lack of fresh water does not stimulate the migration. There will be some glass eels available at a discounted price before Christmas from the restocking quota for those people wishing to have 5-10 gram Juveniles on the market by early summer. 
As far as the French authorities, it has been a very tense start for the season with aggressive check points. We are glad that the ONEMA, AFMAR and others take their job seriously, but on the other hand it is very stressful for Lauren and Benoît to be treated like gangsters on a daily basis.  Let’s hope that will have a significant impact on the illegal trafficking...
Benoît has made significant gains with the fishermen and we have a small nucleus of forward thinking persons who not only recognize the value of developing a fishery that is sustainable but also one that is legal.
Second tide starts at the end of this week, it rained about 50mm a few days ago (not quite enough), we are hoping for the best.
I know it is perhaps old news but perhaps we should keep reminding ourselves and others where the eel sector is going.  While prices have improved for the aquaculture sector the sector as a whole still faces a period of great uncertainty as regards to the future. The 1100/2007 Eel Regulation has not been a success. The EFF funding measures by tender for restocking have culminated in a race to the bottom in terms of price, availability and quality. Estonia and Lithuania are still waiting for stock for last year.  In another cost saving exercise in Sweden, some three million juveniles from France had to be destroyed because of a virus infection.  It has been an uphill struggle but at last there is recognition that there has been a complete failure in preventing illegal exports to Asia.
The eel issue is still perceived in terms of glass eel recruitment, fishing and exports to Asia. The reality is that destruction of habitat and loss of migratory pathways are key to the problem.  While our sector continues to lobby environmental agencies and the bureaucrats in Brussels we should not lose sight of the fact that angling, environmental organisations and other NGOs run large and well-orchestrated and funded campaigns.
As opinions become more polarized this has generated a phenomenal level of intensity, in many cases supported by fake news, erroneous information and traducing regulations to promote agendas that have little to do with conservation. On the positive side there is some evidence that these organisations are now being less successful in hammering home their 30-year crusade to close the commercial eel sector.
There is now a further proposal, council regulation 654/2017, which originally set out to prohibit any fishery of European eel (greater than 12 cms) in 2018 in the Baltic Sea, now has been extended to all Union waters of the ICES area.  The justification of course being  the ICES advice that all anthropogenic impacts should be reduced to – or kept as close to – zero as possible. Rather than the bureaucrat’s becoming part of the polarized opinion it would be better if they concentrated on the key problems. It would appear that those organisations that are involved with water management, flood defenses and power generation seem to be able to continue to operate without let or hindrance.  Targeting spawners as a solution to the problem is a futile exercise unless some of the key problems are addressed.

The proposal for this new regulation came as a surprise. We should as all be very wary of organisations operating behind closed doors where there is a lack of transparency and no stakeholder involvement. It is disappointing that SEG was unable to feel that it could hold the authors of this regulation to account. 
 
We see a salami approach to managing the recovery of the eel. The next part of the process, once the Baltic deal is agreed will be to restrict the fishing of eels (less than 12 cms) in ICES waters and finally the closure of the aquaculture sector.
 
Many of us accept that there are grounds for concern for eel stocks and the overall survivability of larval stocks at sea is very variable the reasons for this have little to do with fishing.

Regards,

Peter Wood.

 






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