Accelerating the recovery of the European Eel

Andy Don’s article in Restaurant Magazine

M&J Seafood has delisted European eel from its catalogue in response to the species being placed on the IUCN Red List of critically endangered species.  But eel expert Andy Don, who works for the Environment Agency, told Restaurant that – while European eel is in decline – eel caught in UK waterways was sustainable. “The threat from fishing is dwarfed by damage to stocks caused by barriers to migration, loss of habitat and hydro-electic dams. We simply don’t have a big demand for eel in the UK,” he said.The UK eel industry is minuscule compared to the rest of Europe. Just seven to eight tonnes of eels are landed each year – in countries where eel is popular, such as France, Germany and the Netherlands, thousands of tonnes are landed a year.

Eels are thought to take up to three years migrating as larvae from the Sargasso Sea to European rivers, where they spend up to 20 years before making the 4,000-mile return journey to the Sargasso, where they spawn and die. The amount of adult eels leaving UK waters to head back to the Sargosso Sea to spawn, is estimated at over a thousand tonnes, putting the eight tonnes caught into perspective.

An industry source told Restaurant that although elver (baby eels) stocks have dropped sharply in the past decade, the number of adult eels in waterways has yet to be affected. “In my view, UK fished eel is sustainable. Eel fisheries only have a 75% catchment rate, meaning only 25% of the eel passing through get caught,” he said.