Outdoors: Nature note

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The Independent Online
Every night now, the elver-fishers are out on the banks of the Severn, dipping their nets in the hope that they will come up filled with gold. It seems barely credible that the baby eels - tiny, translucent and only a couple of inches long - have drifted all the way from the Sargasso Sea, off the Gulf of Mexico. Still more extraordinary is the fact that such primitive creatures have some power of navigation.

Even the most experienced fishermen do not really understand the movements of the elvers once they enter the river. They drift upstream on big tides, and then, as the ebb sets in, they seem to make for the banks, heading for flows of fresh water. On some nights they mass into solid snakes, miles long, and if a fisherman hits one of those, his fortune is made: he has only to put his net in the water to load it.

In the old days - until the Sixties - elvers were a spring treat for country people. For a few weeks, in every cottage, they became staple fare, and boys sold any surplus for sixpence a pound. Now, such is the demand from Europe and Japan that the price has rocketed to pounds 110 a kilo - four times that of smoked salmon - and locals can no longer afford the delicacy.

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