Proposal on eel not aligned with scientific advice

Published on December 8, 2021

After considering the scientific advice on eel that was released on 4 November – zero catch in all habitats – the Commission tabled a proposal which essentially contains a roll-over of the three-month eel fishing closures in Union waters, but with some improvements. They also announced that there will be a wide-ranging stakeholder consultation on future measures to aid eel recovery in 2022.

The  advice on fishing opportunities for European eel in 2022 from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, clearly states that when applying the precautionary approach there should be “zero catches in all habitats in 2022”, including catches for restocking and aquaculture. “All other anthropogenic mortalities should be minimized and eliminated where possible”.

With its proposal, the Commission ignores the scientific advice and its responsibility to apply the precautionary approach, which is enshrined in the basic regulation (EU 1380/2013) on the Common Fisheries Policy. The fact that the Commission is proposing a stricter application of the eel fishing closures in line with the initial agreement in 2017 is just not enough, even though it is expected to create push-back from the Member States.

The proposed improvements essentially include:

  • clearer reference to all coastal and marine waters, including estuaries, brackish waters and lagoons, with a specific reference to Article 4.1 in the basic Regulation (EC 2013/1380).
  • emphasis on the need for the fishing closures to take place during peak migration; it specifically asks the Member States “to ensure that the prohibition covers the periods of the highest migration of European eel”.
  • a requirement for Member States to provide supporting information justifying the chosen prohibition period to the Commission, together with the dates of the closure, no later than 1 June 2022.

The proposed recital text refers directly to the ICES advice but goes on to say that “In accordance with this advice, it is considered appropriate to maintain the consecutive three-month closure for all fishing of eel, whilst the Commission carries out a stakeholder-based consultation on European eel in 2022.”

In light of the ICES advice, we disagree. This proposal is far from enough. The ICES advice calls for zero catch in all habitats, including all commercial and recreational catches of all life stages, even glass eels for restocking and aquaculture. What is needed is the immediate closure of all eel fisheries coupled with urgent action to improve habitats and ensure safe migration routes.

The Commission non-paper and proposal on European eel: st14730.en21

The Commission had already proposed a roll-over of the three-month eel fishing closures for the Mediterranean, based on the GFCM recommendations on eel adopted in 2018 (Recommendation GFCM/42/2018/1): COM(2021)548 for Mediterranean and Black seas