End of the (fishing) line for eel catching?

July 16, 2010 | by | 0 Comments


The ancient British tradition of ”eel catching” passed down in the same family for 500 YEARS is under threat because the last surviving catcher is struggling to find an heir.

Peter Carter, 45, has harvested the Cambridgeshire Fens for eels using medieval skills passed down over 20 generations between men since 1470.

The dad-of-one was proudly taught by his grandfather how to build and lay willow traps to catch the eels but sadly has no son or grandson to pass on his knowledge.

Traditionally the practice has always passed to a male heir, and his daughter Rhianna, 13, like most children her age has not expressed an interest in following her father’s footsteps.

For hundreds of years eel catchers like Peter have laid baited willow traps in secret locations across the waterways of The Fens to snare eels.

Peter is the last man in Britain to still use the traditional willow traps, as the remaining eel catchers choose to use nets, which are more environmentally damaging.

The eels can grow up to the length of a man’s arm but numbers in Britain’s waterways have dropped dramatically over the past 30 years.

Mr Carter said: ”I could be the last one, it could happen – but I hope not because my family has been doing it for so long now.

”The younger generations don’t want to watch and learn how to do this anymore they want to sit indoors playing on computers.

”This job isn’t just about putting traps out but conservation and helping eel stocks. It takes a lifetime to learn.

”There has never been a traditional woman eel catcher, definitely not any in my family.

”As a child I watched my family and helped when I could because back then every village had an eel catcher.

”Now there is only myself who does it the traditional way. I make my own willow traps and I refuse to use nets.

”But there’s not a lot of money in it.”

The first written record of traditional eel catching in Peter’s family was made in 1470.

It is conceivable relatives could have been practising the art for centuries before as many would not have been able to read and write to document the skill.

Peter learned how to fish for eels from his grandfather Joe Wells and was the last in the family line to hold the secrets.

He makes eco-friendly willow traps then pilots a punt along The Fens at night to lay the traps.

He returns in the morning to see how many eels he has caught.

Peter, who does not wear a watch, spends the rest of his working day selling his eels and making more willow traps at his workshop in Outwell, Cambridgeshire.

He sells the willow traps and weaved baskets to tourists and visits schools to educate kids about eels.

Peter estimates he has around 350 family members living in The Fens and has met his wife Sian, 43, when he was five-years-old.

A country-dweller Peter not been to a city for more than 20 years.

The number of eels has dwindled over the past 30 years and stand at 10 per cent of their 1970s levels.

Fewer elvers, baby eels, are surviving the crossing from the Sargasso Sea to The Fens and many more have died due to over-fishing.

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