A SCHEME to increase the number of eels in the county's rivers is continuing to be a success – with project leaders now making calls to protect the species internationally.

A recent fisheries survey – conducted by the Environment Agency on waters which have received baby eels introduced by Herefordshire Eel Project – showed 15 times the number of eels present at the site compared to numbers prior to the project’s start.

The collaborative operation, which is led by Golden Valley Fish and Wildlife Association in partnership with the Lugg and Arrow Fisheries Association and supported by generous private donations, has saved from export, and restocked waters with, more than a quarter of a million baby eels since 2012. These juvenile eels were all otherwise destined for export.

Ian McCulloch, who leads the project, said: “The recent survey results showed five perceivable year classes of eels, which appear to reflect the five years in which we have restocked.

"This is great news, and we should all be very grateful to our sponsors for this. We would also like to thank the careful and dedicated Environment Agency survey team, who demonstrated exactly why government funding for their work is so important.

"However, the European eel is critically endangered – on the International Red List – and needs every available measure to save it from extinction. We will be urging the government to close-down the export trade immediately, before it is too late."

Tony Norman, of the partnering Lugg and Arrow Fisheries Association said they are hoping for similar results in other catchments.

He said: "The Lugg and Arrow were once fantastic rich eel fisheries, but like in most rivers in the country the population has collapsed simultaneously with the upsurge in the export trade.

"Naturally-arriving Severn estuary juvenile eels have only one natural home – the rivers of the Severn rivers basin, including the Wye and tributaries, and none should be exported abroad.”

The Herefordshire Eel project team are due to visit Downing Street in the coming days to lodge an 1,800-signature petition to the government and the EU calling for a precautionary closure on the commercial catch-and-export of juvenile eels.

Nick Longman, of the supporting Monnow Rivers Association, said: “We should not have to be doing this restocking work.

"In our view, while they are red-listed and so critically-endangered there should be no licensed catch-and-export. Eels face extinction if this is allowed to continue.

"The petition 'Stop the Commercial Export of Baby Eels' has support from far and wide among the general public as well as the fisheries community.

"By visiting Downing Street this week we are pleading for common sense to be urgently-applied.”

The petition is available on-line at ipetitions.com/petition/stop-the-commercial-export-of-baby-eels