European eel

Working together to save European eel! Despite EU management frameworks being in place for over 10 years, the European eel continues to be critically endangered.

The European eel population (Anguilla anguilla) has declined dramatically since the 1970s (ICES, 2016). Eels used to make up more than 50 percent 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 coastline, it is perhaps hard to imagine it is threatened. However its distribution has shrunk and the population is down to somewhere around 1–10 % of earlier levels.


Why are the eels threatened?

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 has been in place for over 10 years. It was based on the eel recovery plan from 2007 and mandatory national eel management plans, and is accompanied by an EU ban on trade with countries outside the EU Member States. However, implementation of the 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.


Moving forward

Further actions to secure eel recovery are urgently needed. 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.

Last updated: March 1, 2022

Recent publications

A report on the Annual three-month eel fishing closures

December 19, 2022

Our report on the implementation of the eel fishing closures shows that they largely fail to protect the migration of...

Joint NGO proposal to EU Ministers regarding European eel

December 7, 2018

In a proposal to Ministers ahead of the December Council meeting several organisations have called for the full implementation of...

Eel Evaluation Roadmap NGO submission

May 12, 2018

In response to the evaluation of the eel evaluation roadmap, we have produced a joint NGO paper providing feedback on...

Protecting the eel stock – Questions to EU Ministers

November 24, 2017

20 NGOs have written to EU ministers and called upon them to explain what they will do to protect the...