This nominal change in the wording of the ICES advice from “keep all anthropogenic effects as close to zero as possible” (ie including mortality from other causes) to “zero catches in all habitats” does not seem to make a significant difference. But it is nevertheless a historic step, because it makes it clear that from a scientific precautionary approach, the fishing of the critically endangered European eel is not sustainable.
The previous wording of the ICES advice had been in force since 2003. It allowed some leeway for Member States and the European Commission, leading most EU countries to decide that they could continue fishing for eels, despite the fact that European eels is classified as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and is on the European Red List of Freshwater Fish.
It is a historic step, because it makes clear that from a scientific precautionary approach, the fishing of the critically endangered European eel is not sustainable
Retraction of glass eels is decisive
In the Netherlands it is professional fishermen who catch eel. Anglers must release eels. But in some other countries, recreational fishermen catch at least as much as professional fishermen. Good figures on catches are still lacking.
The eel sector does not agree with the ICES advice and argues that the European Eel Regulation is leading. The IJsselmeer fishermen in particular do not agree with the trend seen by international biologists. They see an increase in catches. But for the biologists, those catches are not normative. For example, it can mainly be expanded stakes that end up in the nets. It is also questionable whether released eels can effectively participate in reproduction. To do this, they have to find their way back to the Sargasso Sea and produce baby palinken (glass eels) there. These glass eels float back to Europe on the Gulf Stream and migrate there via the rivers to the inland waters. A much better measure for the eel stock is therefore the migration of glass eels. It has plummeted dramatically since the 1970s.
Trend glass eel index of Europe (orange) and the North Sea (blue) from ICES (2020). The gray middle line serves as a reference (index = 100), based on data between 1960 and 1970. Source: Mark Groen, RAVON
Despite of remedial measures within the framework of the European Eel Regulation, there is still no visible improvement in the intake of glass eels. The Eel Ordinance is with a Evaluation may have been deemed ‘fit for purpose’ in 2020, but implementation is falling short. This mainly concerns measures to improve the unhindered migration of eels from the sea to inland waters and back. There are far too many barriers to migratory fish in Europe’s inland waters: locks, pumping stations, dams and hydroelectric power stations.
According to the mostsector The Netherlands is doing a lot to save eels, and countries like Spain are failing. However, the effectiveness of some Dutch measures is still subject to some objections. Mortality from fishing has increased again in recent years, and with approximately 60,000 weirs, pumping stations and locks, the Netherlands is the frontrunner in Europe in terms of obstacles to fish. from recent research by RAVON shows that a fish pass in the Netherlands does not allow passage through on average 75 percent of the eel. Out of a hundred eels that try to pass through four fish passages in succession, only one arrives at the final destination.
When cod fishing in the Baltic Sea has to stop, there are several other cod stocks where you can still fish. As a result, the supply to the market is hardly at risk, and the consumer does not notice anything. But that doesn’t apply to eels
The major problem with the European eel is that it is one population. When the cod fishing in the Baltic Sea has to stop, there are several other cod stocks where you can still fish. As a result, the supply to the market is hardly at risk, and the consumer does not notice anything. But that is not the case for eels. It is not enough if you take measures at a local level. Every country in the habitat of the eel, or European eel, must participate in recovery measures.
A stop to catch European eels also has major consequences: there is no alternative supply, at most some Japanese eel, but things are not going well there either. In that sense, eel is essentially different from other fish species, for which there is usually an alternative fishing area.
Stakeout not effective
It is also new that ICES is speaking out about the glass eel catch. Countries use glass eels in eviction programs. This repopulation of inland areas of Northern Europe with glass eels caught off the coasts of France and Spain was like conservation measure included in the European Eel Regulation in 2010 without it being known whether it actually worked. ICES now indicates that stocking glass eels is risky, and it has still not been shown to have an effect. Then, in line with the precautionary approach, you should stop taking it, says ICES. The same applies to breeding: the glass eels come from the wild for this too. And that is not possible, says ICES.
Banning glass eels would make it easier to control the trade. Catching is still allowed, but not exporting. There is now another vibrant illegal export of glass hall.
The ICES advice again makes it clear that urgent measures are needed to drastically reduce the mortality of eels. But because it takes time for migration barriers to be resolved, it is now important to reduce the further mortality of eels from fisheries. And that is bad for the eel sector.
A fishing ban may not be politically feasible. According to nature organizations Goodfish on RAVON it would be a good step if fishing on the IJsselmeer was in any case limited, for example by means of a quota. As a result, eels that have overcome the barriers in the Rhine and inland waterways and want to return to the Sargasso Sea via the IJsselmeer have a better chance of survival.
We would like to give thanks to the writer of this article for this amazing material
Eel is doing badly – Biologists advise total fishing ban for the first time – Foodlog