While the fight against eel trafficking remains a priority of the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation with recent successful operations, the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee is assessing the implementation of the EU’s management measures for eel, this wide operation recalls that poaching and illegal export to Asia is one of the major pressures weighting on the stock. The EAA recently updated its position paper on this emblematic migratory fish species.
The fight against eel trafficking remains a priority of Europol
In June, Europol led a coordinated operation that dealt a significant blow to the global network of glass eel smugglers. From October 2022 to June 2023, over 250 individuals were apprehended and charged with engaging in the commercial trade of approximately 25 tonnes of live eels, valued at 13 million euros. Europol has identified the smuggling and trading of glass eels as the most substantial and lucrative illegal trades of protected species across the globe.
In 2010, the EU prohibited the commercial trade of European eels outside its borders in response to declining eel populations in the wild and their inclusion in Annex II of the Washington Convention (CITES) to strictly regulate trade.
A reminder of pressures weighing on the eel stock
This large operation and the scale of eel trafficking is a reminder of the dire situation of this emblematic migratory fish species. The last 20 years have seen a dramatic decline in the number of eels reaching European river systems. European eel is listed as "critically endangered" under the IUCN Red List.
Besides poaching and trafficking, eels are also faced with many anthropogenic pressures, as EAA highlights in its recently updated position paper. In this paper, EAA advocates for the maximum reduction of all human-induced impacts, such as those caused by hydropower, pumping stations, pollution, etc., that hinder the production and migration of mature eels. The Alliance also calls for a complete cessation of targeted fishing for eels, both commercial and recreational, at all stages of their life cycle*, and the release of all eel by-catches.
EAA also points to the fact that the European Eel Management Plan (EMP), implemented in 2007 to protect freshwater habitats, has not yielded the expected results.
A European parliamentary report in preparation
In June 2023, the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries held a public hearing on the implementation of the Eel Regulation to provide evidence and guidance for better implementation of the regulation and the EMPs. These plans can include measures like reducing fishing, improving habitats, restocking, and ensuring the escapement to the sea of at least 40% of adult eels.
The Fisheries Committee is now working on a draft report on the implementation the EU’s 2007 plan for the recovery of the stock of European eel, to which EAA is providing input through its contacts with key MEPs involved in this work.
*(DAFV, the German EAA member, has a minority statement on this position paper, rejecting a total fishing ban. Read more in the position paper).