AFBI eel fishery research programme gets a boost

Date published: 05 August 2014

In recognition of this direct funding of Academic Research needs by Industry, The Queen’s University of Belfast (QUB) subsequently awarded a Department of Education and Learning (DEL) Scholarship to Conor to assist with the completion of his PhD under the supervision of Dr Derek Evans of AFBI and Professor Paulo Prodohl of QUB.

PhD student Conor Dolan pictured with Pat Close (CEO) Lough Neagh Fishermen Co-operative Society Ltd (far left) and Dr Derek Evans of AFBI (centre).

Since the 1980’s the population of the European eel (A. anguilla) has declined throughout Europe and North Africa with the stock now considered by international experts as being outside safe biological limits for population survival.

Man-made impacts including overfishing, barriers to migration, pollution and human-introduced parasites and environmental changes are believed responsible for the eels demise.

Dr Derek Evans of AFBI’s freshwater fisheries programme said “This award recognises the need for high quality research to support the continued proven sustainability of the Lough Neagh eel fishery for the benefit of the eel fishermen and the wider economy of Northern Ireland.  Its findings will be of immense value to the wider scientific community studying eel stocks.

Understanding the biology of young eels before they reach fishable size is a key element of forecasting future catches, and this project will add significantly to the AFBI’s DCAL funded programme of eel stock assessment.  To date the vast majority of eel research across Europe has examined female biology so this PhD will focus on the male and comes on the back of a research call by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) for such gender specific studies.”

Pat Close, Chairman of the LNFCS said “Fr Kennedy played a central role in establishing LNFCS and worked tirelessly for over 50 years to ensure that fishermen’s interests were protected and promoted. The provision of this bursary is intended to celebrate the unique contribution made by Father Kennedy to the eel industry both locally and internationally.

We look forward to continuing the long-standing collaboration with AFBI & DCAL in the scientific study of eels ensuring that the EU-approved Eel Management Plan for Lough Neagh is both maintained and enhanced and that the sustainable fishery on Lough Neagh continues for generations to come”.


  • The Award was named after Fr Oliver P. Kennedy, the priest who masterminded the establishment of the Lough Neagh Fishermen Co-operative Society Ltd (LNFCS) and who died in 2013. It is intended to promote and help the sustainability of the eel industry in Lough Neagh. Fr Kennedy was a founder member of the LNFCS in 1963, playing a major role in helping the fishers acquire the rights to all eel fishing on Lough Neagh - now Europe’s largest wild eel fishery.
  • Locally the Lough Neagh eel fishery is worth approx. £3.2 million to the N. Ireland rural economy.
  • In terms of value for all fin fish landings in N Ireland it has held the number 1 position several times over the past 10 years yet few are aware of its importance.
  • UK WGEEL National Report 2013 (ICES 2013), The Neagh system sustains the largest remaining commercial wild eel fishery in Europe, producing 16% of total EU landings and supplying 3.6% of the entire EU market (wild caught + aquaculture) in 2007.
  • In February 2011 the Lough Neagh Eel became the first N. Ireland food product to become registered under the EU’s Protected Geographical Indications (PGI) regulation. This placed the Lough Neagh eel amongst the food elite of Europe, recognising it as a unique brand alongside other more familiar foods such as Parma Ham, Feta Cheese, and Champagne.
  • In 2009 the EU approved the Eel Management Plan submitted for the Lough Neagh eel fishery. Of all the eel fisheries across Europe the Lough Neagh fishery was the only one not to have additional restrictions imposed upon it.

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Notes to editors: 

AFBI carries out high quality technology research and development, statutory, analytical, and diagnostic testing functions for DARD and other Government departments, public bodies and commercial companies.

AFBI's Vision is “Scientific excellence in Northern Ireland …  serving the world”.

All media enquiries to AFBI Press Office.

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