Natural eel recruitment increasing

Natural eel recruitment increasing European glass eels. Photo: Wikipedia/Uwe Kils

A new independent report states that the recruitment of the depleted European eel has been increasing since 2011 at a statistically significant rate. The ICES Advice on Fishing Opportunities, Catch, and Effort for European Eel report revealed that the number of glass eels entering European waters is no longer falling, disrupting a trend that began in 1980.

Statistical analyses of time-series 1980–2019 show that there was a change in the trend of glass eel recruitment indices in 2011. Recruitment has stopped decreasing and has been increasing in the period 2011–2019 with a rate statistically significantly different from zero. The highest point during the period from 2011–2019 was in 2014. For juvenile glass eels, the last five-year mean was an increase of 8.7%.

“SEG strongly welcomes the encouraging statement from ICES that the recruitment of European eel is now on the rise,” commented Andrew Kerr, Chairman of the Sustainable Eel Group.

“We believe that this really positive news is thanks to the Eel Regulation and the combined efforts of EU member states. This is proof that international collaboration however difficult can work and that for an extraordinary species like the European Eel is essential. Countries must now redouble their efforts and fully implement their national eel management plans since eel recovery is going to take many more decades. We hope that the combination of scientists, conservationists and commercial peoples all working together will be an inspiration to others.”

The European eel begins its life in the Sargasso Sea, near Bermuda. The larvae travel 6000km via Atlantic currents to the European coastline where they become glass eels. The glass eels migrate up rivers to become elvers and then yellow eels. Once they begin their migration back downstream into the sea, they turn into silver eels.

The number of eels reaching Europe dramatically declined between 1980 to 2011 because of a combination of overfishing, pollution, and human infrastructure (such as dams and weirs) that block their natural migration. Since 2010, the species has been classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN and has been listed at Appendix II the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Illegal trafficking of European eels has also undermined the species’ recovery, which has led enforcement agencies to make countering eel trafficking an urgent priority.


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