Regular face at Ely eel festival - Peter Carter, Britain’s last traditional eel catcher calls it a day
- Credit: Matthew Usher
He has been trapping eels using the same methods that have been employed on the Fens for 3,000 years.
ut now Peter Carter - Britain’s last remaining traditional eel fishermen - has decided to hang up his traps, ending a practice that has passed, largely unchanged, through countless generations.
His own family has traced its eel fishing connections back to at least 1475, but archaeologists have found evidence of the same practices stretching back far further than that.
Mr Carter said he had decided to give up, after struggling with changes to fishing laws and a fall in eel stocks.
In a statement posted online, he said: “It breaks my heart but I can’t live on empty pockets. So the last wicker eel hive and grigg have been lifted from the river, I will not be making anymore. I’ve found employment elsewhere but still working around the waters.”
He added: “I feel I have let all the eel man of the past down - 3,000 years of Fen life has finally gone.
“Let the eels swim free as I lift my punting pole for the last time.”
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Mr Carter lives in Outwell but was a regular face at Ely’s annual eel festival.
His retiring statement has been met with messages of support from well-wishers across the region.
Deborah Curtis, a Fenland author said: “This is very sad - it’s the passing of a great Fenland tradition. He was the last licensed eel catcher as a fisherman.
“He also knows the Fenland waters. Peter would keep an eye on the waters and could see the changes happening around him - a great spokesman to comment on local environmental issues in the Fens.
“Organisations like the Environment Agency may have the numbers, but Peter has a lifetime of knowledge and experience passed to him from previous generations.”
Mr Carter was last featured in the media in July 2014 when bumper numbers of elvers - baby eels - had returned to the Fens, sparking hopes for the industry.
But Cliff Carson, the environmental officer for the Middle Level Commissioners in the Fens, said numbers had since dropped again.
“In 2014, it was a great year for us with elvers,” he added. “Numbers are down from that peak, but are not as disastrous as previous years.”
The plight of the eel has caused great concern among conservationists in recent years, prompting the introduction of regulations intended to protect their numbers.