Working together to save European eel
The European eel population (Anguilla anguilla) has declined dramatically since the 1970s (ICES, 2016). Eels used to make up more than 50 % of the fish biomass in most freshwater environments across Europe – we are a very long way from that today. With millions of glass eels still arriving at the European coast line, it is perhaps hard to imagine it is threatened, but its distribution has shrunk and the population is down to somewhere around 1–10 % of earlier levels.
Changes in the marine environment, damage to habitats, pollution, parasites, overfishing and migration barriers have all had a negative impact. European eel is also the focus of large-scale illegal trade, with glass eel trafficking now recognised as Europe’s largest wildlife crime.
The need for action to save European eel has been recognised internationally for a number of years. It remains on the IUCN red list as Critically Endangered (IUCN, 2020), and a CITES listing on Appendix II aims to closely control trade. It was also included on Appendix II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) in 2014.
A joint EU management framework, based on the eel recovery plan from 2007 and mandatory national eel management plans, has been in place for over 10 years, and is accompanied by an EU ban on trade with countries outside the EU Member States.
However, implementation of the current EU management framework has been delayed, piecemeal and focused on efforts with little discernible effects on the eel population’s recovery. It is also not aligned with the objectives for the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) agreed in 2013, and excludes the wider geographical range of the eel population, in particular North Africa.
Further actions to secure eel recovery are urgently needed and the Fisheries Secretariat is working with partners, such as the Good Fish Foundation, across its geographical range to make this happen.
Our focus is:
- The creation of an international instrument for the protection and recovery of European eel – the Action Plan being developed under the Convention for Migratory Species (CMS).
- A revised EU management framework and improved implementation in line with the overarching objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy, as well as for biodiversity in the EU.
- Increased regional coordination of actions for eel recovery, particularly in the Baltic Sea region (HELCOM) and the Mediterranean region (GFCM).
- An improved control and trade regime for European eel.