Webinar provided much needed update on European eel

22nd of june 2020 – On Tuesday morning, 16 June 2020, the Fisheries Secretariat and the Good Fish Foundation co-hosted a webinar on European eel. Over 130 people from around the EU and beyond (government officials and NGO’s) listened to our speakers providing an update on European eel.

European eel is currently categorised as Critically Endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The well-attended eel webinar provided an overview of several different aspects relating to eel recovery.

First out was eel scientist Jan-Dag Pohlmann from the Thünen Institute, also Chair of the Joint EIFAAC/ICES/GFCM Working Group on Eel (WGEEL). He confirmed the critical situation of the eel, illustrated by graphs of glass eel recruitment showing a steep decline since the 1980s. Although there was a turning point in 2011, with a slight increase in recruitment, there is not yet a clear sign of recovery, Pohlmann said. He also pointed out that the advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) remains that all anthropogenic impacts should be reduced to, or kept as close as possible to, zero. Overall, the status of the European eel stock, all of which is one population, is still critical.

Still patchy implementation of eel regulation

Katarzyna Janiak from the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE) of the  European Commission, presented the main conclusions of the recent evaluation of the European Council eel regulation (EC 1100/2007), that came into force in 2007. According to both the external and internal evaluation, the regulation is still “fit for purpose” but there are some serious shortcomings in implementation and reporting. It was clear that the European Commission would prefer not to amend the eel regulation. Instead, the Commission wants to focus on how to improve the recovery of European eel by putting more effort into better implementation in the EU Member States.

Win-win with optimal design

Speaker Olle Calles from Karlstad University in Sweden enlightened participants with his research on fishways and migration barriers, and specifically their effects on eel. His research group is working together with hydropower companies to find fish passage solutions that work for migrations both upstream and downstream. They found that nature-like fishways provide a much better solution to migration barriers in rivers than technical solutions, such as eel ramps. But because eel ramps are cost efficient, they hold potential. “But we need to optimize design and placement”, says Calles. His group has compared three different designs both in the lab and in the river, and found that one substrate is superior to the others tested. Overall, if the design is right there are win-win situations where survival of migratory fish species is increased to over 90 %, while there is little or no loss in power production.

EU rules on trade stricter than CITES

Karen Gaynor from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) shed light on the positive, but also negative effects of the CITES-listing of European eel in 2007 during the Conference of the parties (CoP14) in The Hague. Eel is listed on CITES Appendix II and in the EU it is implemented through the EU wildlife trade regulations, which are stricter than CITES. Zero export is allowed to and from the EU. According to Gaynor the good news is that the listing raised awareness and profile of the species. It also mobilised political will to work on conservation. But the negatives are that trade has been pushed underground and onto other less well understood eel species. Also, focus has shifted onto fisheries and trade, but “there are wider considerations that are receiving less attention”, she said. According to Gaynor, implementation of the listing of eel is critical and there is a need for a coordinated approach between all stakeholders. She pointed out, for example, the need for “greater collaboration between eel range states, transit states and destination states, to tackle illegal glass eel trade”. 

International Action Plan is being developed

Melanie Virtue from the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), also known as the Bonn Convention, gave an interesting overview of the CMS process, and the efforts to conserve European eel taken to date. Only this February, at the CMS Conference of the Parties, a decision was made to develop an International Action Plan for European Eel. Although an Action Plan is not legally binding, it can set an agenda for measures to protect the species and its habitat. The plan is to adopt the Action Plan by 2023, at or before the next Conference of the Parties.

Webinar recording

This webinar was made possible by support from the Dutch National Postcode Lottery and the Waterloo Foundation