This week, the management of European Eel has been discussed at the 46th Annual Session of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM). The Mediterranean has been forging ahead on eel management in recent years, leading the way compared to the rest of the EU. But the new Recommendation adopted today is somewhat disappointing. It was expected to include further measures on glass eels, but the new requirement is just a punch in the air.
As highlighted by the GFCM Scientific Advisory Committee in June and by last year’s Annual Session, further measures on glass eel are needed in the Mediterranean. Recommendation GFCM/46/2023/16 adopted this week falls short of what is needed, with only a 30% reduction in glass eel fishing mortality in 2024 compared to 2019–2021.
The measures already in place were confirmed in the new Recommendation, including national fishing closures to protect eel migration during either 6 or 3+3 months and a ban of all recreational fishing, which is good. However, the additional measures adopted this year will not further the recovery of the species according to FishSec and MedReAct, two organisations that have been following the development of more long-term GFCM management measures closely in recent years.
– In particular, we are disappointed that the recruitment of young eels – glass eels – into the region was not fully protected in the transitional measures for next year. A complete ban of all glass eel fishing would have been in line with scientific advice and affected very few fishers in the region, says Vittoria Gnetti, eel project manager at MedReAct.
Of all the Mediterranean countries, only Spain has reported any glass eel landings since 2019. In Spain, two coastal regions in the Mediterranean still allow a targeted fishery for glass eels: Catalonia and Valencia. Reported landings for both regions decreased in 2023, and are likely already below the target reduction agreed this week.
According to the latest scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), a total ban of eel fishing, for all life stages and all habitats, including glass eels for restocking and aquaculture, is necessary under EU and international policy requiring a precautionary approach.
The status of the European eel remains critical, but despite a decline in recruitment of more than 90 per cent over the past 45 years, targeted fishing is still allowed in most countries. Total landings across the population reported for 2022 were well over 2,000 tonnes. In the Mediterranean, reported landings are high in Turkey, Tunisia, France and Italy – the latest figures published by ICES for 2022 reveal that Italy has almost doubled its landings of eel compared to 2021. Egypt also has a very large fishery but has not reported any official data.
– We were hoping that the Mediterranean region would continue its strong leadership on eel management in this final year leading up to the adoption of a long-term management plan for the region. A glass eel fishing ban would have sent a strong signal to the other countries still exploiting this very vulnerable population, says Niki Sporrong, Senior Policy Officer & European Eel Project Manager at FishSec. We hope that a comprehensive framework for recovery will be adopted next year.