In early February, International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) conducted an online workshop on the Future of Eel Advice, looking at possibilities to improve the current advice on European eel. The 27 participants discussed different options and the feasibility of achieving them. A road map outlining the identified steps will be discussed further within ICES.
The Workshop on the Future of Eel Advice (WKFEA) initially met by correspondence and for some shorter meetings during a period from 2 November 2020 to 29 January 2021. On 1–5 February 2021, a virtual meeting was held to conclude the work. The workshop was chaired by Estibaliz Díaz, from Spain, and Alain Biseau, from France, with eel experts from 14 different countries, including Turkey, Norway and Japan, participating.
The purpose of the workshop was to discuss the current advice framework, explore the different advice needs and consider options for improving future assessments. The participants considered many different issues related to European eel and the information and data available to assess the effects on the eel population.
Precautionary Approach for data-limited eel
The current ICES Advice on European eel is based on recruitment trends only. It is listed as a Category 3 stock – a term used by ICES for data-limited stocks where full stock assessments are not possible. For Category 3 stocks, the available knowledge is insufficient to apply the ICES MSY approach and the advice is therefore based on the precautionary approach.
No biological reference points have been defined for European eel. In particular, the information on spawning stock biomass (SSB) and landings is lacking, even though data collection has improved in recent years. The complex life cycle and wide geographic range of European eel also makes assessments more difficult.
Advice needs investigated
The annual advice on fishing opportunities for European eel does not relate directly to the EU management framework, such as the “eel regulation” (EC 1100/2007) and national Eel Management Plans (EMPs). There are two main reasons for this: scale and the fact that the eel regulation has not been evaluated by ICES. The ICES Advice is for the whole population, covering the entire geographical range of European eel, which goes far beyond EU borders.
In order to find out more about the expectations of different stakeholders on ICES Advice for eel, as well as how they currently use it and how it could be improved from their perspective, a survey was put together and sent out to the Advisory Councils, regional seas conventions and other governance structures. The responses were considered in the discussions at the workshop.
Next steps identified
At the end of the workshop, a road map setting out the steps towards improved eel advice was created. This included making better use of existing data, both related to fisheries and other anthropogenic pressures on European eel. Because of its complex life cycle and the big differences in the eel stock over the geographical range – such as smaller males dominating in some regions and the age when eels silver (change in preparation for their spawning migration) being variable – a spatialised stock assessment model was seen as the best long-term option, potentially providing both population scale and more regionalised advice.
The road map focuses on two main areas of improvement to the advice: 1) to improve the data that should be part of a stock analysis, and 2) to provide more holistic advice by taking the whole ecosystem into greater account and looking in more detail at the impacts of the different types of pressures affecting the eel population. These proposals will now be further discussed within ICES.