2015 has been a very busy year for all of us here in the UK.  While we have been rearing juveniles for our restocking project in Llangorse Lake in South Wales. Vicky has been working on her own juvenile project for most of the summer.  We are all very glad she is back in time for the 2016 glass eel season. This week she has just told me that another Juvenile project is on hand for this coming summer.  Fortunately it has all worked out well so after another break in the summer Vicky will be back at work in time for the glass eel season starting January 2017.

Prices in Asia.

There is a general downward pressure on the glass eel prices in Asia.
  • A. rostrata remains stable at around 2400 USD per kilo. There is very little supply.
  • A. japonica. Prices have been as high as 20 rmb per piece and are now trading at 9 rmb per piece.
  • A. anguilla.   Earlier in the season the price was 1100 Euros per kg. It is now just 600-700 Euros.
Similarly adult eel prices are nearly half of what they were last year.  Large eels (2 kgs) are now 8 USD per kilo. 
Illegal Glass Eel Trading

Unfortunately, there is a very significant quantity of A. anguilla glass eel stock in China at the moment. The quantities have increased dramatically in the last few weeks. My impression is that many wholesalers are holding A. anguilla.  Imports should be measured in thousands of kilos.  The preferred method for imports at the moment is in luggage. 4 people can transport about a 100 kilos.
There appears to be teams of 16-20 people bringing glass eels into Asia every day. Quantities are between 500 and 1000 kgs. These teams are well organised. The operating costs for these people are minimal. Their fixed costs are limited to the air ticket. The risks are very low.  These are not drugs being moved. You may ask why the security screening does not pick up these consignments. The volumes of international luggage to be screened is enormous and is done using automatic systems that are programmed to find dangerous goods and not glass eels. Some individual routine  security checks  at arrivals and departures in Hong Kong and Europe have identified some stocks.
A combination of demand and the CITES regulations have created margin that  has facilitated this trade. It will take a paradigm shift for the authorities to admit that the regulations have failed. There are now just too many routes available to transport these glass eel. I do not see that regulations and penalties that are proportionate to this illegal activity will ever be sufficient to prevent this trade. The whole system has broken down. If nothing is done the trade will continue for perpetuity.I was a keen advocate of the suspension of glass eel trade to Asia but I think we need to recognise that the current methods of control have failed and we now have a worse situation than before. There needs to be legal trade to Asia to create some competition in the market to reduce margins to make it unattractive to trade illegally. I do not think it is a good idea to immediately go back to exporting glass eels to Asia but the sale of juveniles from Europe to Asia might be an intermediate step. The aquaculture sector is well regulated within Europe and exports could be much better monitored. In addition there would be the additional financial benefit to the European sector and more funds available for the recovery process. 
The English Season.
Please do not forget that the season starts on February 15th.  The season in France has been successful. It is very difficult quantify the exact production because of the illegal trade. We expect a much higher UK glass eel recruitment this year. May be nearly as good as 2013.   We have had ideal winter conditions in the UK for the glass eels. Moderate temperatures, plenty of rain and high water discharges into the Bristol Channel. Historically low rainfall in the winter months results in low catches in the spring.  Conditions have so far been perfect. The sustainable program is now well established In the UK. The majority of the production is certified though there are a few glass eel  fisheries in the North West of the country  with just a handful of fishermen who  for economic reasons  it has not been possible to certify.
Like France we have seen the development of an illegal parallel economy in the UK. In spite of making request to the Environment Agency in the last three successive years for this activity to be controlled nothing has been done. Each year those people involved in this activity become bolder and last year 30% of the production of the River Severn is recorded on the Hong Kong customs import statistics.  The fishery in the UK is much smaller than France and should be easier to manage. It is hoped that a concerted effort will be made to stamp out the illegal trade this year.    
The question of what percentage of the glass eel recruitment does the fishery take remains unsolved.

So for the next two years we are carrying out a population study in the lower part of the Severn Estuary.   It is 3 km wide and in one tide some 500 million cubic meters of water are exchanged.  High tides and cold weather make it a hostile environment to work in.  We will keep you posted of our results.  We have so far only caught two glass eels. 
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