Eels are on the critically endangered species list and fishing for eels in Scotland (without a commercial license) has been banned since 2009. Will stopping pleasure fishing for eels have any effect on future numbers? Only time will tell but I highly doubt it will have any effect at all. I feel the only way to protect the eel would be a complete ban on the commercial fishing/netting of these creatures?
A lot of the controversy in regards to using eels as bait lies with the bait suppliers, should a company be allowed sell a species which is on the critically endangered list? The bait supplier I mainly use utilises dead left over eels from the commercial netting programs. These eels would probably end up as fertiliser or pet food if not used within the angling industry, which seems like a waste so why not use them as bait? Another large bait supplier states that 'all of our eels come into us live so we can assure the angler of the highest quality' whilst a relatively new bait supplier Gadda Baits do not supply eels at all. Whilst not illegal to supply eels as bait I believe that selling eels is morally wrong, but I understand that these suppliers have a business to run and where there is a demand, someone will always be there to supply that demand.
I am a pike angler first and foremost but also have an interest in fishing for eels during the summer. Personally I do not use eels as bait, as I am not comfortable using a fish for bait that is critically endangered. Do I think that pleasure fishing for eels or even using them as bait has any real effect on the total numbers of eels? Probably not as I feel that commercial netting is the biggest culprit to their decline and any ill effects from pleasure angling is negligible.
Personally I believe that we as anglers have to be careful in what we wish for, having a hard stance on using eels as bait could possibly start the ball rolling on a similar ban to the one in Scotland being enforced. This could lead to other restrictive bans being enforced eg, live baiting.
However I do feel that something needs to be done to protect these magnificent creatures, ensuring stocks are available for future generations, but surely this should be done on a commercial scale and not aimed at the pleasure angler?
Steve Ricketts with an amazing 9lb + eel, surely these are worth protecting ?