Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Evidence for a population collapse of European eel (Anguilla anguilla) in the Bristol Channel

Henderson, Peter A.; Plenty, Shaun J.; Newton, Lyn C.; Bird, David J.


Peter A. Henderson

Shaun J. Plenty

Profile Image

Lynda Newton
Head of Department of Applied Sciences

David J. Bird


A 30-year study of the estuarine population of yellow eel, Anguilla anguilla, abundance in Bridgwater Bay, Somerset, UK, shows that the population number has collapsed. Since 1980, the decline has averaged 15% per year. The abundance of eel in 2009 is estimated at only 1% of that in 1980. This is one of the greatest systematically quantified crashes of a fish population ever reported. Collections of eels impinged on cooling water filter screens were made monthly at Hinkley Point power station between 1980 and 2010 and from Oldbury power station between 1996 and 1998. Eels are always present in the Severn Estuary, although there are large seasonal variations in abundance. At Oldbury, in the upper estuary, eels are least abundant in January. In contrast, in the outer estuary in Bridgwater Bay, eels are most abundant between November and March. The size-distribution of yellow eels ranged from 700 mm indicating an age-range since the glass eel stage of 2 to >25 years. The mean size-range has not changed since the 1980s indicating that the population collapse is not caused by a sudden recruitment failure. It is suggested that there has been a continual long-term failure of recruitment to compensate for losses. The reason for this is unidentified, but is unlikely to be changes in the North Atlantic Oscillation or other natural environmental variability. A major effort to improve eel survival to adulthood is required if this species is not to gently fade to extinction. This would likely involve a cessation of elver fishing, a reduction in the volume of estuarine water extracted for power station cooling and other purposes during which eels are entrained and killed, and the removal of obstructions which increase mortality during migration. Copyright © Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 2011.


Henderson, P. A., Plenty, S. J., Newton, L. C., & Bird, D. J. (2012). Evidence for a population collapse of European eel (Anguilla anguilla) in the Bristol Channel. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the UK, 92(4), 843-851.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jun 1, 2012
Journal Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom
Print ISSN 0025-3154
Electronic ISSN 1469-7769
Publisher Cambridge University Press (CUP)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 92
Issue 4
Pages 843-851
Keywords eel population decline, long-term sampling, north atlantic oscillation index, power station monitoring, salinity, seasonal variation, water temperature
Public URL
Publisher URL