Andy Don

River Parrett

Location: Somerset, England

Andy Don, a name that sounds like you will be sleeping with the fishes if you ever dare to cross him in his path, but it was quite the contrary.

Andy is a real cheerfull guy and family man that has two passions: woodworking and eels. In the environmental agency and beyond, he has the nickname ‘the eel guy’. Every time I mentioned Andy to co-workers or at the Natural Resources Wales, they sad “Oh Andy, the eel guy!” I can confirm he knows everything there is to know about eels.

Eels have a lifecycle which is extraordinary to say the least. As an adult between the age of 5 till 15 years, the eel moves from his sweet- or brackish water habitat. In this case, where Andy operates, the river Parrot in Somerset, England, All the way to the Sargasso sea. In great depth the eels reproduce. How they do “it” is not known.

What we do know is that the transparent juvenile eels return “surfing” on the ocean currents. When they reach brackish water, their pigment turns into a brown-blackish colour. If eels stays in brackish water, they often turns male and when they stay further upstream in freshwater, they turn female. It is a big mystery why this is.

Eels are poor swimmers but can cross obstacles other fish can’t. In a muddy environment they can even cross land. All done under the cover of the night. Eels are nocturnal. This part of the eel lifecycle is where Andy and his team come in, to make sure eels can move as freely as can be and in doing so determine gender on its own.

All barriers in Somerset and most of them in England, are by law equipped with an eel pass. It is either brushes like a turnover broom or an invention that Andy came up with. I mentioned earlier Andy is a passionate woodworker and this is where his skill comes in. Andy took some eels back home, installed a slide in his garage with a water pump uptop, made a pegboard and put it on the slide to see if eels can cross it. It worked remarkably well and his wooden prototype is vacuumformed in a hard type of plastic. You now see them on many weirs throughout the UK.

When the eels are finished with foraging ,growing and happily moving across barriers in Somerset, it is time to migrate back to the ocean. No one knows how eels tell time but they do. Swimming down river through the estuary, eels get morphed for ocean life. Their eyes expand up to 10 times and their fins get larger to reach the Sargasso sea.

Eels are rather impossible to track. So the final mystery is how they do find there way back. A life-cycle full of mystery, but we do know due to efforts made on barriers, eel populations are growing.

Migrating eels in action

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