Friday, 3 January 2020

How China is extinguishing the European eel

How China is extinguishing the European eel

There are currently over two billion of them swimming the oceans but are deemed 'critically endangered', as close to becoming extinct in the wild as the Beluga sturgeon or the black rhinoceros. Despite being so numerous it was only less than a hundred years ago that it was discovered how and where they reproduced and even today, despite many attempts, nobody has yet observed and recorded the act itself. We are, of course, talking about eels.

Glass eels
There was a time, not so long ago, when eels were commercially harvested on the chalkstreams.It was of sufficient value that even as late as the 1970's the Leckford Estate retired the iconic traps that have been there since medieval times, with a modern concrete and steel version. Twenty years ago, I can regularly recall eels appearing from the gloom to snatch away discarded fish guts. Today? Well, that would be something of a rarity as eel numbers have crashed by some estimates as much as 80%, hence its endangered status.

We don't, in Europe, eat eels like we used to. That working-class staple, jellied eels, has all but vanished. In my days as a bookie I recall going to a true East End wedding where the pride of place was a giant silver bowl of black/grey, pock-marked dirty yellow jelly. As the vol-au-vents went ignored the true Londoners piled their plates high, the delicacy (I use the word advisedly) coated in turn by ground pepper and vinegar. Soon the flock carpet was a mess of eel vertebrae, each sucked clean of flesh.

But in the southern hemisphere eels retain high culinary status, traditionally in Japan, but more recently in China. Like its European relative Anguilla japonica is in decline but into the breach have stepped eel farms, numbering close to a thousand on the Hong Kong/China border. However, since nobody has yet managed to breed eels in captivity the farms have to be seeded by glass (baby) eels that are netted as they migrate to the rivers where they would otherwise spend the next 10-20 years reaching sexual maturity.

You might wonder how this might impact our natives but Europol (EU police force) reports that eel smuggling is now the world's number one wildlife crime as the more prolific (and less expensive) European glass eels are being illegally exported to China in huge numbers to replace Japanese eels. It is estimated that 300m baby fish, a quarter of the North Atlantic annual migration, are smuggled each year. That translates into £1.8bn worth of eels on Far Eastern fish counters. It is big business with 174 people arrested in Europe in connection with the illegal trade in 2018.

Original Leckford eel traps
I don't know about you but this makes me truly sad especially when set against our own apparently feeble efforts to preserve the eel species by removing the numerous redundant structures that have impeded progress on their up and down stream journeys. 

But when you see this wholesale rape of the seas you do wonder, why bother? In fact it makes me more than sad. It makes me truly angry.

Let me entertain you

I can't promise you Robbie Williams as a guest but even without his presence on the riverbank it is pretty damn hard not to have fun on a fishing day.

People choose all sorts of reasons for a fishing party; by way of a thank you. A day out of the office. A special birthday. A chance for old friends or family to reunite. There are plenty of reasons and plenty of ways to enjoy the day.

If it is just the fishing you want we have beats that take groups from six to sixteen. Don't fancy the laborious task of tackling up your guests? Add one of our Guides who come complete with a sackful of kit, flies and a deep reserve of patience. Mostly novices who won't be happy without a fish? Nether Wallop Mill is hard to beat.

One way or another I think we'll be able to entertain you, but more importantly, your guests. 

More details here.


Brrrr .... a long, cold day in Iceland

For all the scenic, high summer photos you see of Iceland it would be fond to imagine that the country never saw a flake of show; I have a sneaking feeling the Nordic marketing powers-that-be might just want us to believe that.

"Welcome to Iceland" Full Film
But if you board a plane for the opening day in April snow is what you will get, with ice hanging from the rocky riverbanks, the icicles slicing the water. To be fair it is not uber heavy snow but it looks cold nonetheless as you will see in Brothers on the Fly, a video selected for the Rise Film Festival, that tells the tale of Icelandic guide, Matti Hakonarson, and his client, Duncan as they brave the bitter temperatures of Iceland's early spring to catch brown trout, rainbow trout and appropriate to the conditions, Arctic char.

Watch the full film (20 minutes) here. Shorter version here.

Grateful Dead

Continuing the rather thin theme of rock allying with fly fishing I see that Buff have just issued a Grateful Dead snood which follows, albeit a while later, the Grateful Dead Abel reel of 2013.

Once again, I am unable to ascertain any connection between Jerry Garcia and the band with fly fishing, though the 1984 Dead Tour poster does allude to some sort of macabre interest. 
However, it does at least give me an excuse to relate a story I was sent from Australia about AC/DC following on from their equally inexplicable iteration of an Abel fly reel.
"One day in the late 1980s the owner of the Compleat Angler in central Melbourne, Jim Allen, was looking out from a window in the upstairs fly fishing section when he saw some unusual looking characters entering the general sports fishing section on the ground floor.
After they'd purchased some gear and left, he went downstairs to find the junior sales staff in a high state of excitement. "Jim, Jim, they were AC/DC!"

"I know what you mean", said Jim, who was and is very straight and traditional.

"No, you don't Jim, they were AC/DC!"

He was eventually enlightened."

Kurt Jackson - The Fonthill Brook

The famous Messums Gallery in the swanky art district of Mayfair, London has long had an outpost in deepest Wiltshire, in an amazing medieval tithe barn not far from the Fonthill Brook.

Stillness and birdsong, Fonthill Lake, 2019
It is, at any time, always worth a visit with ever changing exhibitions, lovely grounds and a place to eat. However, if you are down that way anytime soon take the opportunity to view Kurt Jackson's exhibition of paintings depicting the Fonthill Brook, a tributary of the River Nadder. 

Jackson has numerous exhibitions to his name and has been artist-in-residence for the Greenpeace ship Esperanza, The Eden project and Glastonbury Festival.

The show is being run in association with the Wessex Chalk Stream & Rivers Trust from January 11th-February 16th. Admission is free. More details here.


No theme this week other than tangentially the Newsletter topics. As ever the quiz is just for fun, with answers at the bottom of the page. 

1) In what year did the first Glastonbury Festival take place?

2) What percentage of produce or earnings did the English Church take by way of an annual tithe or tax?

3) Into what sauce do the Japanese dip eels prior to grilling?

Have a great 2020.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director

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