The need for action to save European eel has been recognised internationally for many years.
The European eel has been listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 2008 (Pike et al., 2020). Because of its great decline, the European eel is currently the focus of a number of international management measures. In 2007, European eel was included in the CITES Appendix II for species threatened by trade, followed by a unilateral EU trade ban in 2010, which is still in force.
It is also listed under Annex II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), as a species that would benefit from international cooperation.
The Convention on the conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), also known as the Bonn Convention, is an environmental treaty that was set up to deal with global threats to migratory species, including barriers to migration, with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme. The European eel was included on Appendix II of the CMS in 2014 as a species that would benefit from international cooperation and was the subject of a Concerted Action from 2017, until a decision in 2020 that CMS would prepare and adopt an international Action Plan for European eel.
The CMS is specifically mentioned in the HELCOM BSAP action B17 as an instrument which may contain measures for eel protection and restoration that “would benefit from regional cooperation on a Baltic-wide level”.
Many tons of live, critically endangered European eels are smuggled from Europe to Asia every year. The 2nd World Wildlife Crime report contained a case study on European glass eels.
The aim of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is to ensure that international trade with wild animals and plants does not pose a threat to the survival of the traded species. Over 40,900 species are protected against over-exploitation through international trade through CITES. The European eel has been listed on CITES Appendix II since 2007 (CoP14, The Hague, 2007).
CITES works by imposing controls on the international trade of selected species. Any import, export, re-export, or introduction from the sea of species covered by the Convention requires authorization through a licensing system. Parties participating in the Convention appoints Management Authorities which are responsible for managing the licensing system, as well as Scientific Authorities which provide guidance on the effects of trade on the species’ status.
The CITES process is currently focused on the implementation of the decision on European eel taken in 2019, after the 2018 review of the effectiveness of the listing. Among other things, the decision encourages Range States to publish their Non-Detriment Findings if they trade in eels, to improve their management framework and traceability, and to share information on any stock assessments with the ICES Working Group on eels (WGEEL).