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Eels in danger of slipping off the menu

UK - They can be flambed in brandy, thrown into a Genoese fish stew, sauted with persillade or stir-fried with black-bean sauce: eels are very much in fashion.

But as quickly as they have returned to the Great British Menu, these delicacies could be sliding off it again - to save them from extinction.

Supermarkets sold 80 tons of eels last year - an increase of 20 per cent on 2005 - and, in total, Britons are consuming more than 300 tons of eels annually.

But European eel stocks have plummeted by up to 99 per cent since the Seventies, and last week signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) agreed to grant them protection and severely restrict their trade, giving them, in effect, the same status as polar bears.

Once a species is added to the Cites list, it enjoys legal protection designed to help it recover. The laws that apply to threatened species such as the European eel, Anguilla anguilla, vary depending upon conservation needs, though "threatened" species can often have the same level of protection as Cites's "endangered" species, which would make it illegal to kill, hunt, collect, injure or harass them, or to damage their habitat.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is also likely to award eels "priority" status on the Government's Biodiversity Action Plan list. The Environment Agency has restricted the number of areas in England where eels can be caught, and is seeking legal powers to cut the numbers of licences it awards for eel fishing.

Although they have never recovered the popularity they had at the end of the Second World War, when there were as many as 100 eel-and-pie shops in London alone, tourism has ensured the survival of dozens of pie-and-mash shops and jellied eel stalls in the capital's East End. A bowl of jellied eels from a stall costs about £1.50; a supermarket sells the same amount for about £2.20. Eels are also appearing on the menus of leading restaurants.

Peter Gordon of The Providores, a central London restaurant that serves smoked eel, said: "Eel is extremely popular, especially with younger clients."

Source: Telegraph.co.uk

the Fish Site Editor

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