Eel Regulation still relevant, implementation lacking

20th of april 2020 – The external evaluation of the EU Eel Regulation has been published. This in depth and robust review is the main fundament for the European Commission’s internal evaluation of the Eel Regulation, which was published earlier this year. The study, produced by Poseidon Aquatic Resource Management et al., is the result of desk research and extensive stakeholder consultation, both through surveys and face to face interviews with governments, commercial eel sector and NGO’s.

The authors conclude that, although only limited progress has been made in terms of eel recovery, the regulation is still highly relevant. Overall escapement of silver eel to the sea has not significantly improved. The overall objective is the escapement of at least 40% of pristine silver eel biomass; only two member states have reached this target (Ireland and Estonia). The stock is still in a critical condition, according to the authors, following the assessment of the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES). Recovery will take many decades. The Eel Regulation was established in 2007.

Especially non-fisheries related anthropogenic mortality needs to be addressed. In fact, the authors state that the Eel Regulation is ‘rather vague’ referring only to ‘structural measures to make rivers passable and improving eel habitats’, but that it is these measures that are likely to have the most profound, long-term impact on the eel population.

Most member states have taken measures to reduce eel fisheries, but fisheries still cause the highest amount of direct mortality. There are worries about illegal fishing. According to the evaluation, the control of eel fisheries is hindered by shortcomings in the EU control system and full traceability is difficult to establish.

The Regulation requires the EU Member States to establish Eel Management Plans (EMPs) for each eel river basin. Since it came into force, 19 Member States have submitted Eel Management Plans with national measures. Six countries were exempted (Austria, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta, Romania and Slovakia). Croatia, Bulgaria and Slovenia did not produce a plan.

In its conclusions, the Poseidon-report states that there is no reason that the Regulation should not be effective over time, there is just a need for sustained and robust implementation at a national level.

What makes the study different from the European Commission’s evaluation are the concrete recommendations, such as:

– Glass eel stocking – especially when supported by public funds –needs to be better justified and international research is needed to determine any net benefit;

– Eel could be better used as indicator of ecological status in the implementation of the Water Framework Directive;

– The poor stock status needs to be better publicised so that greater public pressure can be applied to improve eel management;

– EU Member States need to focus more on removing or bypassing migration barriers and improving river habitat;

– Countries need to report to the European Commission every three years;

– Coordinated research into artificial glass eel reproduction;

– Continued emphasis on fisheries control to reduce IUU fishing;

– More focus for fisheries measures in Member States with significant glass eel fisheries (FR, UK, ES, PT) and yellow/silver eel fisheries (FR, UK, DK, SE, IT, PL, NL, ES, and GR). A less rigorous approach to countries with little or no “productivity”;

– Greater emphasis on transboundary collaboration and sharing of best practices;

– Greater pressure on Member States to fulfil the regulation in its entirety,

– More specific timelines and interim targets across the regulation;

– There is a need for a central coordinating body for the recovery of the European eel,

– A more cohesive funding approach for measures associated with the Eel Management Plans;

– Consideration of eel as a listed species for protection within the Habitats Directive;

– Mechanisms in place for the UK’s new status as potential exporter to the EU.

Click here for the full report (English only). There is a summary available in French and German.