About Us 40 years & On
The company has been catching and distributing glass eels since the early 1970's. The headquarters are located in the West of England on the River Severn, just North of Bristol. This region has a tradition of catching elvers that has been documented for thousands of years.
The hand netting technique has remained the same all these years and is now the only method of fishing to be legal. From this perspective the United Kingdom is unique. It is not possible to find anywhere else in Europe where hand netting is the only method of fishing.
We have seen some very major changes in the glass eel business over the last 40 years: In the late 1960's a non sustainable rush of exports to Japan , followed by a strong demand for glass eels for aquaculture in Europe. Then in the 1990’s there was an unprecedented demand for glass eels from Asia. The next challenge is to introduce a management strategy to develop a sustainable glass eels fishery in the Severn River Basin. In 1983/1984 there was a very marked stepped reduction (60% in one season) in glass eel recruitment. This recruitment has fluctuated over the years and the mean is now about 15% of the pre 1983 level.
I have no doubt it will be a challenge to develop a sustainable eel and glass eel fishery in the United Kingdom. The way that the glass eel industry operates will have to change not only in the UK but in the rest of Europe. This inevitably will result in some very significant and painful market adjustments.
In the 1960's there was a boom very similar to that of the 90s. In this period Japan - not China - imported large quantities of European glass eels partly to support a reducing local supply but mainly in the hope of exploiting the considerable difference in glass eel price between A. japonica and A. anguilla. European prices of glass eels escalated, glass eel traders made optimistic business plans, and for three years the glass eel suppliers were driven by a kind of schizophrenia as the market experienced all time highs and lows. However, an increase in supplies of local glass eels, along with the failure to succeed in culturing the European species in the preceding three years, effectively ended the Asian business overnight. In England, producers stopped trading. Glass eels that had been caught and stored by for several weeks had to be released back into the rivers. For us, this was a golden opportunity to strengthen our core business on supplying glass eels for restocking projects in the former Eastern Bloc countries. During this decade, it was possible to supply millions of low-cost glass eels for restocking projects. There were during these times only limited air services available, and as a result we pioneered the transport of glass eels over considerable distances by truck. The concept of refrigeration and ammonia absorption, not to mention a fully automatic system, were novel at that time. We made deliveries from the UK to just short of Moscow, and as far as the Black Sea. Very often we were working in a hostile environments, very hot or freezing cold, roads were rudimentary and bridges for river crossings non-existent.
In the 1980's four or five first generations eel farms were built in the UK. We were involved with one of the first at a nuclear Power Station on the Severn Estuary. What seemed to be a straight forward business plan soon developed a technical nightmare. For a start the feed we were using produced virtually no growth and consequently survival was low. Initially glass eel survival was only 20%. The UK efforts at eel farming lasted about a decade and by then there was a new second generation of more efficient farms in the Netherlands and Denmark. By the mid 1980's, economic growth in Eastern Europe slowed, financial support for restocking diminished and, finally, with the establishment of a new political order the restocking market disintegrated. Between 1983 and 1984 there was a dramatic fall in the catches of glass eels - more than 60% in the one season, and the catches have not recovered since then. Prices started to increase, stocks diminished and the need to transport between 1500 to 2000 kg of glass eels was no longer relevant. Initially, smaller capacity trucks were used, but more and more glass eels were transported dry by air as orders decreased in size from Europe. The concept of transporting dry by air is not new. A combination of better preparation, better packaging and more appropriate handling, and the sponsoring of a small research project to learn more about the physiology of the glass eel, improved transport results dramatically.
By the late 1980's France had emerged as a major competitor in the market place in Europe, supplying glass eels much earlier in the year before there was any possibility of catching English fish. To lose substantial market share to the French suppliers was a very serious situation that was not going to be tenable for long. However, just as the prospects for the European market started to deteriorate in the early 1990’s new customers appeared from China. It had been more than 25 years since we had last shipped any eels to Asia. As in the 1970's there was a flood of newcomers into the market, prices escalated to levels beyond all expectations.
With the reduction in supply and lateness of the UK season the increasing demand for early glass eels we developed two partnerships one in France and the other in Portugal with a view to obtaining a reliable source of good quality glass eels. The quality of glass eels from France until quite recently has been disappointing. The variation in quality between batches has been quite difficult to manage. However last year we saw a significant improvement in quality and consistency from our supplier.
Though we would like to continue to take glass eels from Portugal we have to recognise that the fishery is not legal. A sustainable fishery policy is not compatible with an illegal fishery and from last year we have decided not to source any further supplies of glass eels from Portugal.
Our objective is to continue to develop an environmentally sensitive fishery to supply live glass eels for restocking and farming in Europe.
Our personal aims are to have a sustainable, profitable fishery that supports the local community that is seen to be the example of best practice in Europe for glass eel fisheries and eel welfare.
Original Holding facility for glass eels in Gloucester docks
Overlooking holding tanks of collecting station. 40 tonne glass eel transporter in the background
There is no doubt that hand caught glass eels from the River Severn and other small rivers in the United Kingdom are still consistently the best quality to be found in Europe. Not just at the start of the season but right through the whole of the season. It is because of this additional quality we are able to offer a transport and a 24 hour survival guarantee for glass eels after they are first stocked on a farm.
An early start. One of our shipments of Portuguese glass eels from Vigo airport
The movement of smaller high value consignments of say 300 to 600 kg's was more suited to air transport than road transport. After extensive investigation, we disposed of our road transporters and purchased a small aircraft to make these direct deliveries.