Environment Agency Provides Consent to Massacre Eels on the Trent
...and Fish Legal considers flexing its muscles..
The Angling Trust has learned that the Environment Agency has granted licences to the Small Hydro Company, working with British Waterways, for two hydropower plants on the river Trent at Sawley and Gunthorpe which allow up to 100 fish – including eels – to be killed at each of two plants in any 24 hour period.
While this doesn’t suggest that the Environment Agency (EA) is directly licensing the killing of fish, it appears to allow the developers to keep generating even where fish are being killed – except where they exceed the 100 mark in 24 hours. The licence also allows up to 10 game fish to be killed in a 24 hour period before the turbines are stopped. Eels are particularly vulnerable to turbines because of their length and their ability to get through screens designed to protect fish (see picture).
European eel stocks are at an all time low. In response, the Environment Agency has recently banned anglers and commercial eel fishermen from taking eels, and on the Trent there is a ban on any eels being taken above the tidal limit at any time. In this context, the Angling Trust finds this decision to allow so many fish to be sliced up in hydropower turbines in a year perverse. In 2005, only 140 Kg of silver eel were caught in the lower Trent for the whole year; these turbines could legally destroy a far greater number.
The hydro schemes also sit uneasily with the UK government’s obligations under various EU laws which require the EA to protect and enhance fisheries, including the Water Framework Directive.
Mark Lloyd, chief executive of the Angling Trust said “We have a situation here where one EA Department has introduced measures to protect the eel, which we support, and another department has given permission for a development which could see eels and other fish slaughtered in massive numbers. Could government be any less joined-up? Hydropower developments should not be licensed to kill; they must be designed so that they don’t damage fish and their habitats.”
Alan Butterworth, technical director at the Angling Trust added: “Current research, and a Europe-wide working group on eels, recommends a screen gap of no more than 15mm to safeguard migrating silver eels, and the Agency's own hydropower Good Practice Guide stipulates 12.5mm for the type of turbine to be used at Gunthorpe and Sawley. The screens proposed have a 20mm wide gap, which would allow eels to enter the turbine channel where they are at risk of being mutilated or killed.”
Fish Legal – the legal arm of the Angling Trust – is now considering a case against the EA on behalf of a member club whose fishing will be damaged by the scheme. The Angling Trust has recently made a series of detailed proposals to change the EA’s guidelines to developers of hydropower schemes.
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