The GFCM research programme on European eel in the Mediterranean Sea was launched in June 2020. Since then, GFCM has been working with the 9 program partners to identify suitable management and protection measures, as well as establish a joint framework for long-term monitoring. An interim online meeting was held on 26–29 April 2021.
Despite the challenging circumstances, good progress has been made. Together, the partners have collected data on different aspects, such as local eel stocks and habitats. Work on harmonising monitoring and revising the Data Collection Reference Framework (DCRF) for eel in the Mediterranean region has taken place.
Establishment of the research programme
When the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) approved its plan for a multiannual management plan for European eel (Recommendation GFCM/42/2018/1), it was also addressing the need for improved scientific advice on eel. Part IV of the Recommendation specifies that the GFCM Secretariat shall provide terms of reference for the implementation of a research programme on European eel in the Mediterranean Sea, to be launched in 2019 and completed in 2022, its outcomes to be presented to the forty-sixth session of the GFCM.
To start with, a review of recent scientific papers concerning European eel in the Mediterranean was undertaken by the GFCM Secretariat, with the assistance of a selection of European eel experts in the region, in order to establish a foundation for future research and a sound basis for any management scheme at the local level. In 2019, a Working Group on the management of European eel (WGMEASURES-EEL) attended by 29 participants was held at FAO headquarters. Among the main objectives was to identify gaps and needs for research to inform the terms of reference for the GFCM research programme on European eel.
Implementation of the programme
The research programme is carried out as a Concerted Action between nine countries (Algeria, Albania, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Tunisia and Turkey), including nine research institutes or universities and nine administration focal points. For a period of at least 18 months, they have joined forces, sharing expertise and ongoing research activities, working towards achieving a coordinated framework for management towards the preparation of a long-term Management Plan for eel in the Mediterranean.
Owing to the unforeseen events linked to the CoVID-19 pandemic, the original timetable and plan for the research programme had to be revised, resulting in the following adjustments:
- Phase 0: a slow, initial phase lasting from June to August 2020.
- Phase 1: Begin effective and coordinated work in line with the original programme, dealing with the need to identify current and prospective management and monitoring frameworks for eel stocks throughout the Mediterranean region (WPs 1 and 2) from 1 September 2020.
- Phase 2: focusing on assessing the eel stock at the local and regional level, establishing common methods of assessment, in order to follow the state of the stock over time and the results of a shared management framework (WP4), ending on 28 February 2022.
The research programme has four main work packages, each with a specific goal, as follows:
- Identify and appraise management and protection measures for the recovery of the eel stock relevant to the Mediterranean.
- Establish a common framework for long-term monitoring of eel in the Mediterranean
- Collect and update data concerning eel stock and eel habitats in the Mediterranean Region
- Establish a common framework for eel stock assessment
Overall, this will require a strong framework for coordination (work package 5), relying on international and national networking. Two of the main deliverables are a set of guidelines for the drafting of management plans and a database on management frameworks.
Progress and preliminary results will be presented to the Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) in 22–25 June 2021. The next meeting with the research partners is scheduled for December, and the interim results are likely to be presented to the GFCM Working Group on eel at the end of 2021/early 2022, and underpin the 2022 discussions in the SAC on long-term management measures for recovery of European eel in the Mediterranean.