Numbers of European eel have been declining for years now due to serval causes such as overfishing, the illegal trade, disease, water pollution and the many barriers the eel encounters during its migration routes. According to the IUCN red list the eel is critically endangered which is the last step before extinction in the wild. This is why it has a score of red on the VISwijzer.
Fishery biologists from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) have been advising for years to eliminate the mortality rate caused by humans. Any form of eel fishing is therefore irresponsible as sustainably caught eel does not exist. However, eel is still sold in the Netherlands and sometimes even comes with a ‘quality mark’.
The Eel Stewardship Fund (ESF) logo can be found on most eel sold in the Netherlands. ESF is a fund founded by Duurzame Paling Nederland (DUPAN) which is represented by the Dutch eel sector.
If eel farms, sellers or traders join the ESF fund, it allows them to put the ESF logo on their packaging. In return, a percentage of the revenue goes to DUPAN. They use this money to help eels migrate over dikes and to release farmed eel back into the wild. By doing this DUPAN wants to contribute to the recovery of the eel.
However, it has not been scientifically proven that these measures contribute to recovery, although the blue ESF logo does suggest this. In addition, the ESF logo resembles the logo of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the quality mark for sustainable wild caught fish, possibly confusing for consumers.
The Sustainable Eel Group (SEG) is an international organisation that strives to contribute to eel recovery in Europe. The SEG has developed a European standard and certification programme for sustainable eel under the name of Sustainable Eel Standard (SES), which contains strict rules which must be met by fisherman and farmers in order to display the SEG logo on your eel products.
Having the SEG logo on your product gives you a marketing advantage over eel products without the SEG logo. One of the conditions the SEG logo sets out is that fishermen have to make a ‘net positive contribution’ to the eel population.
However, it is not easy to prove that a fishery or nursery is actually making this positive contribution and the certification only works if there are no non-certified fisheries for eel.
The SEG logo is not recognized as a quality mark, as it has no ISEAL approval. ISEAL is an international organisation involved in the management, development and assessment of quality marks. Among other things, ISEAL guarantees that the SEG standard is independently assessed. For all the ISEAL principles, please visit the website.
There are still many quality marks on the market that falsely guarantee sustainability. The MSC (for wild caught fish) and ASC (for farmed fish) labels can be found on most fish products in the supermarket. If these labels are missing from the packaging, look up the species concerned in the VISwijzer. You will find information about the fish species, the fishing method, and the origin, on the back of the packaging in the yellow-marked box.