Many Down anglers coarse fish in the Bann system and around Lough Neagh. They will be familiar with the eel fishery based at Toomebridge.
Lough Neagh Eels, recognised by traders and chefs as being the best eels in the world, have been granted Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status under EU law.
After a three year application the European Union has officially recognised the regional importance of the Lough Neagh Eel and it now ranks alongside Champagne, Parma Ham and Greek Feta Cheese in having PGI status.
PGI legislation came into force in 1993 and provides for a system for the protection of food names on a geographical or traditional recipe basis. The scheme highlights regional and traditional foods whose authenticity and origin can be guaranteed. Under this system a named food or drink registered at a European level will be given legal protection against imitation throughout the EU.
Welcoming the announcement Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill said, “It is a real achievement for the Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative Society Ltd to have attained this EC approved quality mark for their produce. This award, which is the first for any product in the north of Ireland, not only recognises the quality of the Lough Neagh Eel but also the historical importance of the product to the area with the continued use of traditional methods and sustainable practices.
“Lough Neagh Eels are one of many high quality foods that we produce here and it is only right that they are recognised on the international stage. I would encourage other producers to work with my Department who can help them to develop applications under the Protected Food Names Scheme.
She added, “I also wish to highlight that there may also be opportunities for all-island registrations. The scheme can offer significant marketing opportunities in addition to protection against imitation.
“With both Armagh Bramley Apples and New Season Comber Potatoes awaiting European recognition, I hope that Lough Neagh Eels are the first of many local products to gain protected status. I share the Co-operative Society’s excitement at this very great accomplishment.”
Father Oliver P. Kennedy, of the Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative Society Ltd added, “We have worked hard with DARD to gain the PGI and it is a reward for the fishermen around the Lough who continue to fish using methods passed down from previous generations. Gaining the PGI will help us to continue to sell Lough Neagh Eels in the European market and will hopefully also help to raise the profile of the industry.”
The Lough Neagh Eel Fishery is the largest commercial wild eel fishery in Europe. It is run by the Lough Neagh Fishermen’s Co-operative Society Ltd, which has exclusive rights to the eel fishing in Lough Neagh. The Co-operative administers its own set of regulations to ensure standards and sustainable fishing practices.
In 2010 the catch of eels that went through the Lough Neagh Fishery totalled over 400 tonnes.
So the next time you take an eel home for your supper, remember and tell your wife it is exclusively a Lough Neagh eel.