Big thank you from

The highs and lows of an eel fisherman

by the Rambler 23/11/2001

THE book on basket-making launched at Lisburn Museum a decade ago, contains an interesting account of the experiences of a veteran Lough Neagh fisherman, circa 1917.

John McAlinden of Toland's Point, since deceased, rehearsed an appalling story of the vicissitudes of his era.

He concluded by revealing that although the Tyrone men claimed they got £1 for a stone of eels, the men on this side of the Lough never got that much.

He went on to say that a local man, who joined the army, came home to report that when the army went to Billingsgate market each day for their requirements they were charged 170 shillings (£8.50) a stone!

I have no information about current prices but the eagerness with which regular eel fishermen look forward to the opening of the season on June 1 is an indicator that no-one is selling at £1 a stone nowadays.

The Toomebridge Cooperative is, of course, now in control and everything is regulated: seasons, hours, gear, quotas, etc, etc.

The days of setting fire to the whins on the shore to warn poachers to scarper or have their lines seized by the bailiffs have long since gone.

I have suggested to some of the veterans that eel fishing is a nice cushy number now, but I have got blistering responses.

Come to think of it, handling one eel, or a full net of them, must be a messy, slippery business.

How would you like to tackle the task of one skinning one, eg, if you wanted to cook a meal?

They are gourmet fare but the sight of still writhing on the hot-plate would put many people off. I have already mentioned the number of `takes' that the television camera men had to have when they pictured a Bartin's Bay man cooking an eel alfresco earlier this year. I think his name is McNally.

Reports were in circulation last summer that global warming had affected the Gulf Stream, which eels follow on their way to the shores of the British Isles and that shoals have been reduced.


Local fishermen do report a fall off in catches but one of the most experienced of them dismissed the global warning theory when I consulted him. "It is the pollution of the water that is the cause," he said. Certainly, the state of Lough Neagh waters viewed from the shore of Bartin's Bay is appalling.

Maybe the cat fish which inhabit the waters of South America, existing in areas where the water is too stagnant for other fish would be more at home around Derryclone Point?

I have been reading about one of these, a giant electric eel which often exceeds eight feet in length and can produce up to 600 volts in a single discharge.

It is an ugly brown brute with a broad blunt snout and a thick set body, which lives for 15 to 22 years - the male 15 and the female 22.

The tail contains the electric organs - muscles lying on either side of the vertebal column, some 5000/6000 electric plates which are arranged like cells in a battery.

One section is used as a navigational signal, the others to create the stunning discharge.

The eel has no teeth but uses the electric shock to stun its prey. In one instance, an electric eel reputedly knocked down a horse which was crossing a stream! One shock will not kill a human but several can prove fatal.

The electrical eels' diet is fish, clams, frogs, shrimps, insects, worms, plants and items of refuse.

Electric eels have been used in the treatment of rheumatism and a study in France is exploring the possibility of using them to monitor water quality.

The only threat to its survival is industrial waste, ie pollution. .

It is not of much interest to anglers although there are reports that it is sometimes eaten. Shocking!.

Ulster Star