International moves to improve conservation of European eel

Published on July 3, 2018

During its second meeting of Range States for European eel, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), it was agreed that further international cooperation would be valuable as a way to improve conservation and management. The importance of taking all threats affecting European eel into account and have a mechanism that covers its full geographical range was emphasised.

With European eel (Anguilla anguilla) being classified as “red-listed” and Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), it has been on the agenda of the CMS for a while. The species was listed in CMS Appendix II in 2014 because it has “a conservation status which would significantly benefit from international co-operation”.

In 2017, the Contracting Parties (CMS COP12) adopted a Concerted Action for European eel. Among the specific actions agreed by the CMS were meetings with all the so-called Range States – a term used in conservation biology referring to any country with jurisdiction over any part of the range (geographical distribution) of a particular species – to explore ways to better protect the European eel.

This second meeting of the Range States on 15-16 May 2018 was hosted by the World Maritime University in Malmö, Sweden. It was co-organised by the CMS Secretariat and the Sargasso Sea Commission in order to identify and prioritise gaps in conservation and management efforts and, in particular, to explore ways to pursue eel conservation through the CMS.

With participants from many of the Range States, including North African countries, Belarus and several EU Member States, as well as experts, NGOs and representatives of CITES and IUCN the meeting could draw from extensive knowledge and many different perspectives. It was not always easy to find a way forward in discussions, particularly as eel management falls under both conservation policy and fisheries policy within the EU. In the end, however, it was agreed that it would be valuable to further develop an international cooperation mechanism under the CMS – which is uniquely placed for this role – as no other current management or conservation efforts can really cover the full range of European eel, including the high seas.

The current management framework includes an EU recovery plan agreed in 2007, requiring each Member States to implement a national Eel Management Plan to reach a joint target, as well as a listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). With great demand and high prices, trade in particularly glass eels has been substantial and the CITES listing was complemented by an EU Decision in December 2010 to ban all trade of European eel with countries outside the EU. A substantial illegal trade remains.


Note: The first CMS Range State meeting took place in Galway, Ireland, on the 13-14 October 2016, but was less well attended.

Outcomes from the 2nd CMS Range State meeting on European eel can be found here.