ICES repeats zero catch advice for eel

Published on November 1, 2023

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, ICES, published its scientific advice for European eel for 2024 today. It is echoing last year’s advice: zero catches in all habitats and for all life stages and zero mortality for all non-fisheries related human impacts. European eel is not recovering and yet most EU countries continue to fish this critically endangered species.

Today’s scientific advice makes very clear that no catches of the critically endangered European eel can be considered sustainable and that “zero catch” 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.

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.

EU measures not in line with CFP objectives

Since the advice of zero catch in 2021, the need for further measures to aid eel recovery has been debated across and beyond the EU. But despite a European Commission consultation in 2021/2022, and Special Request Advice from ICES on 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, eel fishing continues and EU countries landed more than 1,800 tonnes of eel in 2022.

Last year, the Commission proposed a clear reinforcement of the existing measures, extending eel fishing closures in EU waters designed to protect eel migration from 3 to 6 months during peak migration, together with a complete ban of recreational fishing. This was, however, opposed by a blocking majority of Member States and watered down to closures including loop holes during the important migration periods, particularly for glass eel.

This year’s proposal cements those exemptions, allowing a targeted fishery for 30 days during the migration period and up to 60 days in the case of glass eel fisheries, arguing that this is important for restocking, which is listed as a conservation measure in the so-called eel regulation. On the bright side, the ban of recreational fishing for eel in EU waters remain.

 Current EU management of European eel is clearly not in line with the scientific advice, or the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy, says Niki Sporrong, Senior Policy Officer & European eel Project Manager at FishSec. The Commission proposal is disappointing to say the least, as it allows fishing to continue even at peak migration. Some countries may take most of their annual eel catch in 30 days.

 We support the ban of recreational fishing in EU waters and urge Member States to make it universal – as it already is in the Mediterranean region, she continues.

Next steps

Over the coming weeks, the proposals and the scientific advice will be discussed with the Member States. Eel management should be aligned with EU objectives for fisheries and biodiversity, not only in EU waters but across the EU. 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 complete fishing closures and national measures in inland waters.

 It is time to stop fishing and start restoring habitats and water quality to save this enigmatic species, says Niki Sporrong. We applaud the Commission’s efforts to work with Member States to address other threats as well, as outlined in the recent Action Plan. Member States across the EU need to step up now and do what they can to help this enigmatic species recover

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 6–10 November, the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) will be discussing proposals for further measures on eel during its 46th Annual Session in Split, Croatia. A decision on the Commission’s proposal is expected at the Fisheries Council meeting on 11–12 December.