Scania European Eel

Ark of taste
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Europeisk skåneål

Eel fishing, a craft handed down from father to son for generations, has been an important source of income in Skåne since the Middle Ages, but there are traces of this activity since the Bronze Age. In the past there were various fishing methods such as eel chests or longlines, but now all are banned and the only approved method is the hommor, a hand-made net container specially adapted to the different water depths, currents and other local conditions. On the east coast of Skåne lies the 40 km long ‘eel coast,’ running from Stenshuvud in the south to Åhus in the north. Historically, this is considered the most important area for eel fishing. Here, there still are more than a hundred huts where fishermen used to spend their nights during the three-month fishing season. Today, just 67 remain, of which only about ten are still active. They are small, simple huts provided with a storehouse and a room with bunks for sleeping. The fishing season coincided with the time when the eels (the European eel species, Anguilla anguilla) ventured out to sea to return to the Sargasso Sea. During these long weeks the fishermen used to stay in huts in order to guard the sump (box) where the caught eels were stored. Eel fishery is so deeply linked to Scanian tradition and cultural heritage that a village has the word ‘eel’ in its name: It is Ålabodarna, a fishermen village in Glumslöv, in the municipality of Landskrona, where a large number of eels have been caught over the years, taking into account multiple factors, such as darkness, southern currents and different winds. All eels are born in the Sargasso Sea, about 700 miles away from Skåne. Here the eels hatch at a depth of hundreds of meters and the larvae begin their journey eastwards with the help of the Gulf Stream. As the water gets warmer, they become more yellowish in color. They may stop at the coast or enter rivers and streams to various lakes. Here they mature, their color turns brownish and when they approach sexual maturity, they change shape and color again and are called White Eel or Silver Eel. When they arrive to Sweden they are neither male nor female, their gender being determined by their nutritional intake. In Skåne many eels become females, probably due to the excellent food supply. The females are about 12 years old when they start their return to the Sargasso Sea via the Öresund from the Baltic. The few males that do turn up are small and 7-10 years younger when they start their return. In the fishermen’s huts the traditional ‘ålagille’ is celebrated, a festival dedicated to the eel, which originated from the payment for the fishing right that was performed through a certain amount of eels. A real ‘ålagille’ must contain at least four different types of eels. It starts usually with smoked eel, aladåb eel, eel with straw, fried eel, luad eel and ends with eel soup. As eel is an oily fish, it should be eaten slowly, accompanied by a homemade wormwood liqueur. One sip for every decimeter of eel, according to the old recipes. The eel is now on the brink of extinction and the entire cultural heritage, tradition, recipes, fishing huts, fishing gear and knowledge inherited over generations in Scania are threatened. In 2012 the association ‘Ålakustens cultural heritage’ was formed, whose aim is that eel fishing with its traditions be declared a cultural heritage in Sweden. The threats to eels are many and difficult to solve. A major problem is the damming of watercourses. The eel manages to migrate to our fresh waters when it is small, but when it has grown up and swims back to the Sargasso Sea it often gets caught in the turbines of power stations. In addition, parasites have been found that are thought to adversely affect its existence and, most importantly, we still do not know how much climate change is affecting the lives of the eels that arrive in the Skåne region every year.

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Skåne län

Production area:East coast of Scania, from Stenshuvud to Åhus

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Fish, sea food and fish products

Nominated by:Annette Nilsson