Just in time for the glass eel fishing season to begin on 1 November, the EU Commission issued a ”clarification” that in effect implied a ban on all eel export to countries outside the Union.
Recruitment in the eel population in EU waters has dropped by more than 95 percent in just a few decades, and a campaign to reach 40 percent escapement – eels returning to the Sargasso Sea to spawn – has been underway since 2008, including a call for all member states to set up management plans.
Eel is also listed in Annex II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which puts hard restrictions on trade in the species.
In a letter of clarification in late October DG Environment stressed that a permit to export eel to a third nation can only be issued when “the competent scientific authority has advised in writing that the capture or collection of the specimens in the wild or their export will not have a harmful effect on the conservation status of the species or on the extent of the territory occupied by the relevant population of the species”.
It added that, since the European eel forms one single stock, the national scientific bodies are furthermore expected to take into account the opinions of those in a “wide majority” of other member states, “according to which, in the current circumstances, a non-detriment finding for the export of eels cannot be made”.
DG Environment issued its clarification only days before the glass eel fishing season was to begin in southern European waters on 1 November. The glass eel phase is the second stage of the severely threatened species’ evolution, after the larvae has come drifting to coastal waters on its long journey from the Sargasso Sea.
Since the export ban only affects trade with nations outside the Union, its effect on trade within the EU is expected to be lower prices. At the first auctions last year, the average price for a kilo exceeded an unprecedented € 2,000.