At the Fisheries Council last week, many big issues competed for attention and not much was heard about the Critically Endangered European eel. The Council did, however, agree on a roll-over of the current provisions for a three-month closure of all eel fisheries.
Since December 2017, there has been a provision within the annual TAC and quota regulations for a closure of all eel fisheries in EU waters for three consecutive months. Which three months, is up to each coastal Member State, but in the northern ICES area waters (Baltic, North Sea and Atlantic) it has to be between 1 August to 28 February, whereas in the Mediterranean Sea it can be at any time of the year.
The Commission had proposed a roll-over of the provisions in both regions (COM(2020)377 and COM(2020)668), and this was accepted without much debate, though the efficiency of the closures was raised.
The ban applies to all life stages and fisheries in Union waters, as well as brackish waters such as estuaries, coastal lagoons and transitional waters. The closures should also be consistent with the conservation objectives set out in Council Regulation (EC) No 1100/20076 and the temporal migration patterns of European eel in Union waters of the ICES area.
The provision for the Mediterranean had to be in line with Recommendation GFCM/42/2018/1 adopted by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) which establishes management measures for European eel in the Mediterranean. It therefore also included inland waters.
This is the fourth time that the Council has agreed on such a ban for eel fishing, though the exact content and time period has changed over the years. Considering that ICES advice for European eel (Anguilla anguilla) remains unchanged: that all anthropogenic mortalities, including recreational and commercial fisheries, should be reduced to, or kept as close to, zero as possible, it is difficult to see how a three-month fishing ban can be sufficient in terms of eel conservation. Much more needs to be done.