Large winner from little eels

Queen's Awards
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By the time an eel arrives at Peter Wood's premises in Gloucester, it will have been washed from the Sargasso sea by the gulf stream and picked up by a fisherman in Europe. Yet wriggling on a scale with a kilogram weight, it still takes about 2,999 other eels to make it balance.

Mr Wood, a vet who specialises in aquatic matters, has been "involved in eels a long, long time" but since 1990, has operated Glass Eels, effectively an eel forwarder, from premises in Gloucester. With 12 staff, his is one of the smallest companies of this year's export winners.

Eels, which arrive at Gloucester in carefully-designed protective containers, are given a health check before being divided into consignments bound for Europe or Asia. Once there, the aircraft may be met by 50 or 60 people, each taking 3kg or 4kg.

From there on, the eel ceases to be a delicate load and becomes a potential foodstuff. Those that do not escape to produce more baby eels grow into large edible eels.

"We send to Denmark, Germany and Holland and wherever there are restocking and farming projects," Mr Wood says.

Glow worms have little in common with eels outside their squirm factor, but both have contributed to this year's awards. The enzyme which causes the glow worm to glow - luciferase - has been harnessed by a Bridgend company which makes portable systems for hygiene checks.

Biotrace produces test kits which can quickly detect minute levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a chemical found in all living cells. If ATP is present, a company knows that contamination has been left on apparently pristine surfaces. Organisations using Biotrace save the two or three days they have to wait for traditional tests.

Biotrace, which now employs 80, has recently signed agreements to promote sales throughout Europe, Russia, North America and the Baltic states, while production capacity has more than doubled.