European eel recovery: where are we after a decade?
The European eel is a fascinating species. Born at sea, it then migrates into inland waters to eat and grow. In the course of its life, it travels many thousands of miles, and passes through a number of very different stages, marked by changes in its colour.
The European eel stock has been in critical condition for over a decade.
In 2007, the EU adopted the ‘eel regulation’ which provided a framework for the recovery of the stock in the long-term. In an effort to protect the stock and ensure its sustainable use, EU countries established eel management plans (EMPs) for the river basins with significant eel habitats. The plans provided various measures to:
- ensure that at least 40% of adult eels escape to the sea
- limit professional and recreational fisheries
- make it easier for fish to migrate through the rivers
- restock suitable inland waters with young eels
The European Commission has carried out an evaluation of the implementation of the eel regulation and found that:
- The eel regulation remains an important instrument in helping the European eel stock to recover. It ensures the management of eel in all its life stages and addresses both fisheries and non-fisheries related human impact.
- Despite noteworthy progress in reducing fishing efforts and a concerted attempt to develop a pan-EU management framework, the status of the European eel remains critical.
- The silver eel escapement is still well below the target of 40% biomass that would have existed if no human influence had impacted the stock.
- Whilst restocking works in some Member States, not all have achieved their restocking targets.
- Member States’ annual reporting on glass eel prices is incomplete. Many countries fund glass eel stocking through the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).
- Non-fisheries related mortality has not declined significantly over the last decade. This has received insufficient focus in the EMPs and related actions.
- Although the eel regulation offers the necessary framework to help restore the stock, its recovery is still far from certain. It is widely recognised that the recovery of the European eel will take many decades, given the long life-span of the species.