On the 19th of February 2019, the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee held a Workshop on European eel management. Experts and MEPs exchanged views on the status of the European eel and the actions needed to protect this iconic species.
The invited experts presented the main outcomes of a study on ‘Environmental, social and economic sustainability of European eel management’1 commissioned by the Fisheries Committee. The study provides an overview of the current knowledge of eel biology and stock status, the main sources of pressures on the stock and the management measures put in place by the Member States.
The European eel inhabit the fresh waters of the whole European continent. Unfortunately, since the 80s, the recruitment of this species (the larvae) has fallen by over 90%, and the stock of adult eels by ca. 50%. The IUCN has assessed the European eel as ‘critically endangered’ on its Red List of Threatened Species in 2009 and, again, in 2014. In 2007, it was listed as an Appendix II species by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and trade regulations came in force in March 2009. In 2010 EU banned all eel exports by EU member states.
European eels migrate to the Sargasso Sea in the north Atlantic to breed. An eel spawns only once in its lifetime. From there the larvae travel with the Gulf Stream back to Europe.
The reasons for the tremendous decline of the eel population are still not fully understood. There are a number of mortality causes at play including fishing, hydropower, pollution, habitat fragmentation and destruction.
The illegal trade of glass eels to Asia is one of the big threats to the stock. EUROPOL estimates that around 100 tonnes of glass eels are smuggled every year from Europe and sent to Asia, the equivalent of ca. 350 million fish. On top of that, hydropower plants and dams hinder eels from up- and downstream migration and a huge number of eels are killed in the hydropower turbines.
In the debate that followed the presentation of the study MEP Annie Schreijer-Pierik found the study “unsatisfactory” as it overlooks the big economic value of recreational fisheries, and the significant efforts and payments made by the sector for restocking of eels.
MEP Werner Kuhn stressed the importance of having more and better data on the impact of cormorant’s predation on the eel stock, also recalling an event on cormorant management , organised by the Forum on Recreational Fisheries and Aquatic Environment
October last year.
Other interventions made by the MEPs and the experts touched upon the poor performance of Member States in implementing their eel management plans. It was also highlighted that lack of data from the Member States makes it impossible to assess the impact of fisheries –both recreational and commercial- on the stock. For the same reason, it is not possible to estimate the appropriateness of the measures included in the eel management plans to effectively increase the spawning biomass.
The experts stressed that the possibility of extinction of the eel - given its lifecycle - cannot be excluded.
In line with the above, the European Anglers Alliance (EAA) and the European Fishing Tackle Trade Association (EFTTA) have been calling, for a long time, for urgent measures to protect the European eel stock. In order to improve the eel habitats, all the aforementioned man-made obstacles to eels’ migration need to be mitigated or removed. The current eel management plans, have not delivered to ensure that enough of adult eels leave the EU waters or reach the spawning grounds in the Sargasso Sea. With regard to illegal trade, the EAA and EFTTA stress that much more effort should be devoted to combat illegal fishing and the illegal export of glass eels.
● In December 2018 EAA adopted a position “On the rebuilding of the European Eel (Anguilla anguilla) stock”, which is available here
The complete study is available here