Plans for international Action Plan for European eel agreed

Published on April 23, 2020

In February, the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CSM COP13) agreed that an international Action Plan for European eel is needed and should be developed before the next Conference.

On 17– 22 February, the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS COP13) took place in Gandhinagar, India. With around 2 550 people attending, it was the largest meeting in the history of the Convention.

The theme of the meeting was “Migratory species connect the planet and together we welcome them home”. A first review of the conservation status of migratory species prepared for the conference showed that populations of most migratory species covered by the CMS are declining and that biological resource use is a significant threat to the listed species.

Ten new species were added to CMS Appendices at COP13, among them several sharks: oceanic white-tip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus) was added to Appendix I, which comprises migratory species that are in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range, while smooth hammerhead shark (Sphyrna zygaena) and tope shark (Galeorhinus galeus) where added to Appendix II, which covers migratory species that have an unfavourable conservation status and that require international cooperation for their conservation and management.

New and extended Concerted Actions with targeted conservation plans were agreed for 14 species. The Conference of Parties (COP) also agreed and approved reports on Concerted Actions, including the completed Concerted Action 12.1 on European eel (Anguilla anguilla).

As a result of the Concerted Action on European eel and the third meeting of the Range States, the CMS Secretariat also introduced a document outlining potential next steps to the COP. The document included a list of threats and challenges, a possible structure for an Action Plan for European eel and a draft decision (Annex 3) for the COP to consider. The draft decision on European eel was adopted by the CMS Committee of the Whole[1] (COW) on Thursday 20 February, and forwarded to the COP.

The decision on the conservation of the critically endangered European eel (Anguila anguila) was adopted, including the development of an international Single Species Action Plan for the conservation of the European eel involving all Range States, as well as IGOs and NGOs. The EU and its Member States suggested ensuring close cooperation between range states and other states regarding the Sargasso Sea area, the common spawning ground of the European eel, which should fall within the scope of the Action Plan.

The final outcome of this decision directs:

  • parties that are range states to provide guidance to the Secretariat on the structure and scope of the proposed Action Plan for the European Eel by 31 May 2020;
  • the Standing Committee to adopt the Action Plan;
  • intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations to provide expertise and funding for the development of the Plan, including the convening of a range state meeting to finalize the plan; and
  • the Secretariat to submit the draft plan to the Standing Committee at its 52nd or 53rd meeting for adoption, or, if not finalized in time, to COP14.

Future Action Plan result of six years’ of CMS work

With European eel (Anguilla anguilla) being classified as “redlisted” 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 added to CMS Appendix II at the 11th Conference of the Parties (CMS COP11) in 2014 because it has “a conservation status which would significantly benefit from international co-operation”.

In 2016, the CMS Secretariat and the Sargasso Sea Commission organised a first Range States Workshop on the European eel in Galway, Ireland, to review the conservation status of and existing management measures for the species.

In 2017, the Contracting Parties (CMS COP12) adopted a Concerted Action for European eel. The Concerted Action includes five activities, chief among them a second Policy Meeting of Range States to explore all options that might help to strengthen conservation efforts for the European eel. “Range States” is a term used in conservation biology referring to any country with jurisdiction over any part of the range (geographical distribution) of a particular species.

This second meeting of Range States to the European eel took place in Malmö, Sweden, on 15-16 May 2018. It set out to identify and prioritise gaps in conservation and management efforts and, in particular, to explore way to pursue eel conservation through the CMS. The meeting agreed that it would be valuable to further develop an international cooperation mechanism under the CMS, as it is uniquely placed to cover the full range of European eel, including the high seas.

It was followed by a third meeting of the Range States in Malmö, Sweden, on 25–26 June 2019. At this meeting, countries and other stakeholders continued to discuss the need for greater transboundary cooperation, especially between EU countries and those outside of the bloc. The third Range State meeting resulted in the Recommended Actions to COP13.

Expected delays in global action for biodiversity

The Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) was adopted in 1979 and entered into force on 1 November 1983, in response to international concern over threats and subsequent decline in many migratory species. CMS is also known as the Bonn Convention, and recognises that states must be the protectors of migratory species that live within or pass through their national jurisdictions. It aims to conserve terrestrial, marine and avian migratory species throughout their ranges. The Convention currently has 130 parties.

CMS COP13 was supposed to be the first in a series of international biodiversity conferences in 2020, culminating with the UN Biodiversity Conference in China in October – the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD COP15) – which was expected to adopt a new global biodiversity framework. This conference has now been postponed, together with a number of preparatory meetings, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In February, however, the CMS parties adopted the Gandhinagar Declaration with the CBD Conference in mind, calling for migratory species and the concept of “ecological connectivity” to be integrated and prioritised in the new global biodiversity framework.


[1]A Committee of the Whole is sometimes created by a COP to facilitate the process of negotiating text. When the Committee finishes its work, it turns the text over to the COP, which finalises and formally adopts it during a plenary session.