Accelerating the recovery of the European Eel

Debate: Recreate the eels’ habitats and reduce mortality in hydropower plants

“Assignment review program on the eel shows that the protection of the species is both burning and complex. Protection is best coordinated at EU level as the population is spread over several continents. Recreating lost habitats in inland waters should be a priority, write five eel researchers at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.”
Read the full article in Swedish here 
Article translated into English below

Återskapa ålens livsmiljöer och minska dödligheten i vattenkraftverk

Uppdrag gransknings program om ålen visar att skyddet för arten både är brännande och komplex. Skyddet koordineras bäst på EU-nivå då populationen är spridd över flera kontinenter. Att återskapa förlorade livsmiljöer i inlandsvatten bör prioriteras, skriver fem ålforskare vid Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet.

“The European eel is Europe’s most geographically dispersed fish species. It is a single population found in large parts of the continental inland waters (and some coastal waters) in Europe, North Africa and West Asia. For several decades, the recruitment of young eels has fallen sharply, which is why most people agree that the species needs strong protection.

The eel’s hiking trails are blocked A recent episode of SVT’s Assignment review shows a unfortunately too often neglected problem for the eel. For centuries, hiking trails have been blocked by hydropower and other things. Rivers have been straightened and lakes, wetlands and ditches have been drained. These used to be important habitats for the eel, which according to historical sources was very numerous, played essential roles in the freshwater ecosystems and provided food for the poor.

“Made very little” Eel fry die in tons in European rivers because they cannot migrate further upwards.

Seen over the distribution area, the inland habitat is the most important thing for growing eels. Eel fry die in tons in European rivers because they cannot migrate further upwards. In addition, tons of eels in European hydropower plants are dying. At EU level, the Eel Regulation, overriding Swedish legislation, aims to ensure that Member States adequately protect eels. The Eel Regulation has recently been evaluated by the European Commission, and has been found to be relevant and current.

In Sweden, measures to protect the eel have mainly focused on limiting eel fishing: a ban on recreational fishing in 2007, closed commercial fishing on the west coast north of Torekov in 2012 and a declining number of eel fishing licenses since then. On the other hand, our own surveys, like the report from Assignment review, show that very little has been done overall to recreate the eel’s inland habitat and guarantee safe upstream and downstream passage past the hydropower plants in Sweden.

According to the EU Common Fisheries Policy and the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea ICES, all relevant human activity must be taken into account in order to maintain viable fish stocks. We believe that this is necessary in the case of eels, as research lacks a quantitative understanding of the reduction in recruitment.

Rebuild the eel stock

To recreate at least parts of the eel’s previous inland habitat and reduce mortality in hydropower plants, we currently see as the most urgent measures to rebuild an eel stock with a long-term view at historical levels. It would probably benefit both the eel and biodiversity.”