Accelerating the recovery of the European Eel

A fishing ban will not safe the eel

A fishing ban will not safe the eel

Forskningen säger ja till fiskeristopp för ål” [Science says YES to a ban on eel fishing] was the headline of the opinion-article published by Henrik Svedäng and Gustaf Almqvist in Kvällsposten Debatt. But we do not agree with such a one-sided view on the problem. Close the fisheries, if you want, but don’t claim it will make a difference for the eel. The problems will persist.

The eel is the most widespread fish stock in Europe, appreciated as a food resource, and an important element in biodiversity of inland and coastal ecosystems. Unfortunately, the stock has experienced a severe decline over many decades. Less than 10% of the original stock remains. No single country can solve that on its own. Thus, cooperation across the whole of Europe is required. That concerns not just Skåne’s eel-coast, the Baltic Sea or Sweden, but the whole of Europe.

In 2007, the EU adopted a Regulation to achieve eel recovery, which made all countries adopt Eel Management Plans. Since then, the critically endangered status of the eel has attracted much more attention. Now, ten years later, the sad conclusion is unfortunately that we are stuck. The hopeful increase in young-eel abundance that started in 2012 has not continued and protection is still insufficient in many areas. Political debates about eel suffer from extreme polarization; with little to no stock recovery.

Scientific advice on eel is complex because each countries is very different. The eel stock is affected by commercial and recreational fisheries, water management, hydropower, pollution, and much more. So far, the international advice given by International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has remained on the safe side and advocates minimizing all impacts – including the fisheries. But in doing so, ICES has not make use of the best available information and has not given feedback on what has been done. Thus, ICES has not shown a way forward. The EU-Commission now points to the ineffectiveness of today’s management. This challenges all of Europe to do more and better.

Discussing the 2018 ban on eel fishing in the way that Svedäng and Almqvist have done, without the wider context in Sweden and elsewhere, oversimplifies the problem. Such a simple approach does not contribute to a responsible way forward. The eel deserves better than that.

Willem Dekker, Håkan Wickström, Andreas Bryhn, Niklas Sjöberg and Katarina Magnusson
Eel scientists at Swedish Agricultural University, Institute for Aquatic Resources (SLU Aqua).

Edited by: Nick Walker