Accelerating the recovery of the European Eel

France exports millions of baby eels to China

I am writing to you as the Chairman of the recently formed Sustainable Eel Group. We are a partnership with members drawn from leaders of the scientific, environmental, conservation and fishing communities. We are determined to see the eels return to abundance and that our fishing industries and communities should be well regulated and prosper.

We are very concerned at the break down of the EU Commission’s Eel Recovery Plan and the CITES authorisation of exports to Asia.

France controls 90% of the supply of baby eels upon which most other National Eel Management Plans in Europe, including the UK, depend. The natural supply of baby eels has virtually ceased to the Northern and Eastern Countries of Europe.

At meetings of our group last week we learnt that French exports of baby eels to Asia had already taken place (3 tons) even though they are required to make them available to other countries for restocking the wetlands of Europe. (As per Article 7 of the European Eel Recovery plan).

The 14.5 tons maximum quota for exports were only justified on the basis that it represented just 21% of an anticipated French catch of 70 tons for the 2008 catch – so far this season which is over half way through just 10 tons have been landed. Last year some 30 tons were landed in total. ie. due to the continued decline in baby eels, this quota is probably now too high. Reference point of quota is not up to date.

Each ton represents 3 to 4 million baby eels. These are often called Glass Eels.

The Sustainable Eel Group has learnt that orders for restocking wetlands elsewhere in Europe have been placed and were now very unlikely to be filled and so French Fisherman are being permitted to make large short term profit through exports to China in priority over meeting their EU obligation to make 35% of the catch available for restocking.

Should France continue with these exports and fail to put aside the 35% they could be subjected to infraction proceedings.

It is highly likely that the 14.5 tons will absorb all the remaining catch in France and short term profit will triumph over sustainability.

The ultimate effect of this plundering will be to slow the recovery of the eel, by losing them from their natural European environment. Undermining their chances of recovery, via European Eel management plans.

An answer would be to suspend the exports next week at the end of the ‘tide’ (21st Feb) and so allow the restocking orders to be fulfilled in the final tide and a half of the French middle and south season.

CITES urgently needs to work with the European Commission to achieve this outcome which forms an important element of the European Eel Recovery Plan.  It begs the question what is CITES doing?

Andrew Kerr