EU begins evaluation of eel management

Published on April 17, 2018

On 13 April, the European Commission released a Roadmap for the upcoming evaluation of the Eel Regulation. The evaluation is set to help the Commission decide whether to review the regulation or focus on improving implementation. Stakeholders are invited to provide feedback on issues related to the implementation of the Eel Regulation until 11 May 2018, and then in a second consultation in October.

The so called Evaluation and Fitness Check Roadmap of Council Regulation (EC) No 1100/2007 of 18 September 2007 establishing measures for the recovery of the stock of European eel provides background on the issue and explains the process and focus for the evaluation. The intention is to inform stakeholders and enable them to participate effectively in the process as well as provide views and possible solutions for better eel management. It is the first step of a process that may take several years.

The evaluation process will begin this Spring, with a final report expected in the first quarter of 2019. It will consist of three parts: an external evaluation of the management framework, an ICES assessment of the biological aspects and a Commission review of the use of public funds to support implementation. The first public feedback period (open 13 April to 11 May) will inform the initial phase of the evaluation, whereas the second public consultation in October will give stakeholders a chance to reflect on some of the initial results and provide views on potential measures.

First evaluation found significant delays

This will be the second EU evaluation since the Eel Regulation came into force in September 2007. The previous evaluation took place after the first national progress reports were submitted in 2012 and a report was presented to the Council and European Parliament in 2014 (in line with requirements in the regulation (Art. 9.2).

The first evaluation found that the status of the European eel remained critical and in need of urgent action and that the implementation of the Eel Regulation had suffered significant delays. It also found that most of the management measures taken were related to fisheries, whereas other measures such as improving habitats or controlling predators and parasites had been postponed or only partially implemented. Altogether, it was difficult to assess progress towards the main objective of increasing silver eel escapement due to all the delays and the long timeframes involved. It also highlighted that few countries had reached their restocking targets and there was concern that restocking practices may not contribute to increased escapement but instead sustained the fishing for eel.

This second evaluation is therefore crucial in terms of assessing the effects of management measures, as more time has passed. Also, since the previous Commission report, the reformed CFP (Regulation (EU) 1380/2013) objective of Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) has been applied to stock management.

Effectiveness and coherence in focus

The emphasis of this evaluation is on the effectiveness and coherence of the measures taken to aid the recovery of European eel, in particular through the national Eel Management Plans. A number of areas are listed, including the design and implementation of restocking efforts, the management of glass eel fisheries, enforcement and monitoring both in marine and inland waters, coherence with other EU legislation and international instruments, including CITES and CMS, as well as the use of public money from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) to aid implementation.

The Commission is now awaiting Member State reports on the use of EMFF funds, implementation of the Water Framework Directive and, in particular, the national eel management plans in order to gather the information needed for the external and internal evaluations. ICES has put out an extended data call on eel to support its work.

When the evaluation report is finalised in early 2019, the Commission will make its decision on the way forward, probably including an Impact Assessment of potential measures. If the regulation needs to be revised, this is a longer process with proposals for amendments that will need to be discussed and agreed between the Council and the European Parliament. It could take years, particularly considering that 2019 is the year of European Parliament elections, the appointment of a new European Commission and Brexit.

Eel still waiting for “urgent action”

Meanwhile, European eel remains listed as critically endangered by IUCN, trade is restricted under CITES Annex II and efforts are ongoing to support its conservation under the Convention on the conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). European eel is still in need of urgent actions to support its recovery.

A Commission attempt last year to close all EU fishing of adult eels – arguably the most rapid way to aid increased reproduction – was not supported by the Member States. Instead, a joint Declaration on strengthening the recovery for European eel was agreed, committing Member States to step up their actions, including a review of current restocking practices and fighting illegal fishing and trade. In the context of fishing opportunities for 2018, a 3-month ban on fishing for European eel of 12 cm or more is to be implemented by the Member States between 1 September 2018 and 31 January 2019. .

Across the wide geographical spread of European eel, responses to its plight have been slow, patchy and largely ineffective. The first reports of substantial decline came already in the 1970s, but it took over three decades to get agreement on a management framework for the European Union and a listing under CITES Annex II to restrict trade.

The European eel regulation (EC 1100/2007) was finally adopted in 2007. It is a framework regulation with an overarching objective – 40 % escapement of silver eel biomass compared to pre-anthropogenic levels – and an agreed set of measures to use. It requires Member States to create and implement Eel Management Plans for each “eel river basin”, and to submit progress reports every third year, beginning in June 2012.

The implementation of the eel management plans has been riddled with problems, including delays, a lack of reporting, a misuse of measures to support fishing rather than conservation and a very substantial illegal trade in glass eels with countries outside of the EU. Against this background, the upcoming evaluation is incredibly important. It remains to be seen whether it will bring about the urgent measures required to rebuild the remaining eel population over the coming decades to a sustainable level capable of supporting an active fishery.