The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, ICES, published its scientific advice for European eel for 2023 earlier today. It reinforces last year’s advice, of zero catches in all habitats and for all life stages, by also highlighting conservation aspects and advising zero mortality for all non-fisheries related human impacts.
The European eel (Anguilla anguilla) has been listed as Critically Endangered by IUCN since 2008, and is on the European Red List for freshwater fish. It is also included in Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) since 2007. Despite the need for protection and efforts to aid its recovery, European eel continues to be fished across most of its natural range. Only Ireland, Slovenia, Malta and Norway have closed all fishing for the species.
In 2021, a change in the scientific advice to zero catches in all habitats for all life stages made very clear that no catches of the critically endangered European eel can be considered sustainable. This message is reinforced today by a new advice format including so-called “headline advice” on not just fishing opportunities in 2023 but also conservation aspects. This is part of a gradual move within ICES towards including ecosystem-based management considerations in the advice. The European eel is the first species to receive such advice.
In addition, the new advice makes very clear that the “zero catches” also applies to glass eel landings for restocking and aquaculture, as none of these activities are likely to have net benefits to the reproductive potential of the population. ICES does acknowledge that so-called assisted transport of eel within the same waterbody can be considered a temporary conservation measure under certain circumstances.
Further measures urgently needed
Since the advice of zero catch last year, the need for further measures to aid eel recovery has been debated across and beyond the EU. The European Commission launched a consultation in December 2021, asking stakeholders and decision-makers for suggestions on how to implement the new advice. It also received Special Request Advice from ICES on the national implementation of the Council Regulation (EC) No 1100/2007 establishing measures for the recovery of the stock of European eel, which showed that no overall progress has been made in reaching the objective on increased silver eel escapement.
– The proposal is a far cry from the advised zero catch, even if it is a step in the right direction, says Niki Sporrong, Senior Policy Officer & European eel Project Manager at FishSec. The Commission’s plan to continue to work with Member States on a more “comprehensive approach” addressing other threats, as well as inland waters, will be very important, as well as ensuring compliance with the new rules once adopted.
Over the coming weeks, the proposals and the scientific advice will be discussed with the Member States. The objectives of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy should also apply to eel, and the regions as well as many countries have made their own commitments to sustainability, following scientific advice and protecting biodiversity. These commitments need to be implemented now through national measures in inland waters.
– Eel management should be aligned with EU objectives for fisheries and biodiversity, not only in EU waters but across the EU. It is time to stop fishing and start restoring habitats and water quality to save this enigmatic species, says Jan Isakson, Director at FishSec.
Even though the ICES advice is produced for the EU and the UK, focusing on the Northeast Atlantic region, it covers an area well beyond that and is highly relevant for other countries as well. Next week, on 7–11 November, the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) will be discussing proposals for further measures on eel during its 45th Annual Session in Tirana. A decision on the Commission’s proposal is expected at the Fisheries Council meeting on 12–13 December.
 ICES. 2022. ICES Technical guidelines on conservation status advice. In Report of the ICES Advisory Committee, 2022. ICES Advice 2022, Section 16.4.12. https://doi.org/10.17895/ices.advice.21435987
 COM(2022)559 final: Proposal for a Council Regulation fixing for 2023 the fishing opportunities for certain fish stocks, applicable in Union waters and, for Union fishing vessels, in certain non-Union waters, as well as fixing for 2023 and 2024 such fishing opportunities for certain deep-sea fish stocks.