Plunging eel stocks spell hard times for a global delicacy
By Sam Cage
CRUMLIN, Northern Ireland (Reuters) - From the food stalls and pie shops of Dickensian London to haute cuisine restaurants in Tokyo, the eel has a long and rich culinary history that transcends classes and national borders.
But it is becoming an increasingly rare delicacy as stocks plummet and Europe's fishing industry shrinks to make itself sustainable.
With an annual catch of about 600 metric tons (661.387 tons), Europe's largest commercial eel fishery - and the United Kingdom's largest lake - is Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland.
Those whose families have fished its shallow grey-green and nutrient rich waters for generations believe their traditional industry and way of life may be coming to an end.
"There will not be another generation of fishermen. More than half are of pension age. Whenever I finish that will be the end," said Shane O'Neill, a sprightly 70 year old from the nearby town of Crumlin who has worked the lake since 1960.
According to legend, Ireland's patron Saint Patrick removed all its snakes, which represented the Devil, and many went into the water and became eels - one possible reason why they are not a popular dish in Ireland.
So most of the lake's produce - protected under European law in the same way as champagne and parma ham and a delicacy in countries including Germany, Poland, China and Japan - gets sent abroad.
Selling at around 6 pounds ($9.7) a pound (450 grams) or three times the price of other eels, Lough Neagh's catch is also exported across the Irish Sea to Britain. Continued...