ICES advice: fisheries for eel must close completely

Thursday 4 November 2021 – The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) has issued her advice to the European Commission regarding eel. Clear and determined advice: all fishing for eel must stop completely throughout Europe. It is advised both fisheries for adult eel and juvenile eel (glass eel) stop completely. Despite measures that have been taken to try and protect the eel, recruitment has not increased. In addition to previous advice issue by ICES, it is stated that releasement of glass eel into mainland waters to aid eel migration must stop as no evidence has proven that this measure contributes to recovery of the eel.

Clarification of ICES advice

Every fall, scientists affiliated with ICES gather all available knowledge regarding the status of European eel and use this to issue an advice to the European Commission. European member states base their legislation and the measurements they plan to take on this same advice. Jeroen van Wichelen, researched at the Institute for Nature and Forest Research (INBO, Brussels) has made the following statement: “It was hoped that the slight increase in glass eel recruitment in 2012 would continue to increase in the following years. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Although there are marginal fluctuations, the situation and the issue continuous to remain stable. There is absolutely no indication that the European eel is recovering”. In light of this, ICES therefore once again recommends that fishing mortality and mortality by barrier structures, such as pumping stations, needs to be brought back to zero to allow the eel to recover. Hoping to accelerate the recovery of the eel stock, European member states started releasing juvenile eel (glass eel) into European rivers; restocking activities. The Netherlands also provides subsidies for stocking programs. However, ICES has found that this measurement is harmful to the population as a large number of glass eel are fished without it having a positive effect on the recovery of the stock. It is the first time ICES expresses its full concerns about restocking in her advice.

Clarification on recruitment figures

All eel that is found in the Netherlands reproduces in the Sargasso Sea, somewhere in the Bermuda triangle, 6000 kilometres from here. The warm gulfstream helps the eel larvae return to Europe and North-Afrika to subsequentially migrate into mainland waters as glass eel and become adults. Yearly recruitment of glass eel is compared between European countries to assess the situation of the European eel. This is an important measure for successful reproduction and gives an indication of the robustness of the new eel population. For example, the number of glass eel along the coast of the North Sea have been counted in the last 20 years. When comparing the estimates per year, it has been found that current estimates for glass eel are a mere 0.5 – 3% of what they used to be. The situation of the European eel is therefore closely monitored and criticised, also having the status ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN red list.

All hands on board – save the eel

Several organisations and almost all member states are trying all kinds of things to improve the eels situation. Management plans containing recovery and protection measures have been implemented by 17 member states since 2017. The Dutch eel management plan contains a list of measures, including a fishery closure period and finding solutions to migration barriers formed by sluices, and pumping stations. Dutch fishermen are releasing eel into other water systems and environmental organisations such as Good Fish and the World Wide Fund for Nature advises to stop consuming eel. Large supermarket chains have chosen to stop selling eel and RAVON investigates the recruitment of glass eel and is working on improving migration and habitats. Despite all this effort, it appears more is needed for the recovery of the eel. According to Good Fish and Ravon, it’s all hands on board from now on. Recovery needs to be stimulated; starting with fisheries and water boards to data collection and improvement of habitats.

Link to ICES advice