EELS ARE a part of East End culture: even vegetarian incomers have heard of F Cooke and other classic eel-and-pie shops.
But for the last 30 years they have had to look to continental suppliers for eels because the slitherers have been blocked by the locks on the waterways that lead from the Thames and up along the River Lea (or Lee, if you prefer).
The extraordinary snake-like fish migrate almost 5,000km from their spawning in a sea called Sargasso, which of course makes the story sound like a folk myth. It gets stranger.
Their journey across the Atlantic Ocean, gliding on ocean currents and snapping up smaller creatures, the while trying to avoid predators, takes about three years.
Enter the Canal and River Trust. The volunteer outfit has been installing channels, filters, at the side of lock gates that allow eels, at that stage known as elvers because they are in the early part of their 80 to 100 years of life span, to wriggle upstream.
The trust is working with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), both of them charities, to monitor eel numbers at the specially made eel pass at Lee Bridge Road, Clapton E5 9RB (happily near the Princess of Wales, a much-improved pub).
Trust ecologist Chantal Dave says: “Eels are synonymous with the East End, albeit in their jellied form rather than for journeying thousands of miles and setting up home in our waterways.
ZSL conservationist Joe Pecorelli adds: “By building passes we open up more habitat to eels, allowing greater numbers to reach maturity in our rivers and make the epic journey back to the Sargasso to spawn.
“This is not only of benefit to populations of the critically endangered eel but also to the wider ecology of our precious urban rivers.”
* Volunteers are needed to help this endangered species. The first training session to count and measure eels is at the Lea bridge in Clapton E5 9RB next Tuesday 24 May 2016 at 6pm.
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