A company running a fish farm near Gloucester has defended its operation after being criticised for continuing during the Coronavirus crisis.
UK Glass Eels, based at Over, near Gloucester, has been catching and distributing glass eels since the early 1970s.
Hundreds of fishermen and women on the rivers Severn, Wye and Parrett provide owner Peter Wood with stock.
But with the virus spreading across Gloucestershire and the rest of the UK at an increasing rate, one member of the public has questioned whether such a commercial fishing operation should still be happening.
The individual, who has chosen to remain anonymous, said: “With all the problems with the Coronavirus and the government guidelines, can you tell me why ex vet and millionaire businessman Peter Wood of UK Glass Eels is still operating his glass eels, buying and selling?
“There are over 350 fishermen unprotected fishing the rivers Severn, Wye and Parrett in Bridgwater selling the glass eels to UK Glass Eels.
“Why do pubs, clubs and theatres have to be closed for the safety of our country but this millionaire businessman can open to 350 people?
“It is a joke and the government should stamp down on people like this. Money isn’t everything.”
Mr Wood said in a statement that there was a large amount of space between the fishermen providing his firm with eels and that keeping it going was protecting jobs.
He said: “We are running a social distancing programme at the glass eel station. There is a barrier between the fishermen and our staff. Furthermore the building is under positive pressure ventilation so the airflow is always towards the fishermen’s exit.
“Only five to seven persons are to come into the building at a time and fishermen are to remain in the car park until there is space for them.
“There may be 350 licensed fishermen but they are not all active. Currently we are seeing some 25 persons per day so there is plenty of distance in time and space between the fishermen. My secretarial staff are working from home.
“The spacing between fishermen on the river can be measured in tens of metres.
“In terms of movement to our customers, this is all done by aircraft from Gloucester to the customer’s local airport. Much less contact than delivering by truck where drivers are in continual contact with people all through the journey.
“These glass eels are critical to the survival of the farmers using them in the EU and the overall economic survival of the sector and Great Britain.
“My understanding at the moment is the objective is to stop social contact in the leisure sector and unnecessary social contact in the business sector. At the present time production and manufacturing is continuing where it is commercially viable.
“The business sector has not been advised to shut down and if and when a decision is made to close down the commercial sector of the UK and stop all exports, then we will close.
“Our biosecurity programme is proportional and rational and as good as that operated by any other industry.
“As to the relevance of the comments that I am a millionaire businessman – there is no personal financial benefit for me by keeping the business open. However I do have a responsibility in making sure my staff have sufficient funds to survive this crisis and that there is job security for them.”
He added: “The situation is very fluid and if things change this afternoon and fall more in line with the Schengen countries, we will adapt our protocols to fit.
“Generally the fishermen are pretty good. A few have not appreciated the gravity of the situation and need reminding but overall there is good compliance.”
The Angling Trust, which governs recreational fishing in England, is asking all anglers to stop fishing.
Chief executive Jamie Cook said: “In light of the Government’s announcement on 23 March, the Angling Trust and Fish Legal are asking that all anglers follow the current guidance and stop fishing.
“While we understand the proven benefits on active lifestyles, physical health and mental wellbeing that angling provides, it is not currently classified as one of the safe exercises in which to engage.
“The Angling Trust have sought clarification on this point and we hope to work with Government, the Environment Agency and Sport England as things move forward, to ensure that access to fishing and the benefits it brings are part of the nation’s plan for ensuring our community’s health and wellbeing.
“For now though, we as a community, must take responsible action to protect ourselves, our families and our communities through this period. This is about saving lives and supporting the NHS.
“The Angling Trust have established a support hub for individuals, clubs, fisheries and organisations and a dedicated team of professionals have been put in place to help those impacted within the angling community to access grants and funding applicable to each organisation.”