Multiple NGOs – including Pew Charitable Trusts, WWF, and Good Fish Foundation – released their input on 11 May to the European Commission’s “roadmap” for an upcoming evaluation of the E.U.’s Eel Regulation.
Established in September 2007, the E.U.’s Eel Regulation provides strict rules regarding the conservation of the European eel. The species is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and trade of eels is restricted heavily. Exportation of all eel, especially baby “glass eels,” is illegal.
The NGOs said that the evaluation will be a good step towards conservation of the European eel as the Eel Regulation ventures into its second decade.
“We strongly support the upcoming evaluation and welcome this opportunity to provide feedback on the effectiveness and implementation of the E.U. Eel Regulation,” the NGOs wrote.
The NGOs gave a list of aspects that they hope the E.U. will take into account during the evaluation, including the reporting and data collection obligations of the countries involved; the use of public funds and whether it has aided eel recovery; the substantial illegal trade of European eel outside of and inside of the E.U., and its effects on conservation; the effectiveness of restocking practices; and the effectiveness of fisheries closures.
“It is our hope that through implementation of urgent measures and better management and protection in the future, we can enable long-term recovery and sustainable exploitation of European eel, but we note that we are a very long way from there today,” wrote the NGOs.
The Sustainable Eel Group (SEG), which advocates for the preservation of European eel, also provided comments to the E.U. on the upcoming evaluation. The organization called for the evaluation to examine the implementation across member states.
“SEG believes that the Eel Regulation is very much fit for purpose, and that the problem lies in its weak and uncoordinated implementation by member states and the European Commission rather than in the regulation itself,” wrote the SEG. “The implementation of the Eel Regulation has suffered significant delays and it has not been properly enforced in member states.”
The SEG has been adamant about the need to combat illegal trade of the eels, which has been estimated to be removing a quarter of the natural recruitment to the stock. Glass eels, or elvers, can fetch very high prices-per-pound, making them an obvious target for smugglers.
In early April, a smuggling ring in Spain was busted after smuggling an estimated EUR 37 million (USD 44.2 million) worth of glass eels from Spain to China via multiple routes. Europol, in cooperation with the Spanish Guardia Civil and Portuguese authorities, seized 350 kilograms of glass eels being kept in an elaborate makeshift aquaculture facility at a warehouse.
“The illegal trade of glass eels from Europe to Asia is seriously undermining the efforts to protect and restore the stock by physically exporting a major share of the overall stock but also by corrupting the governance and control frameworks,” the SEG wrote. “Therefore SEG recommends the European Commission to include a fourth pillar for the evaluation, that is data and intelligence are collected and immediately shared by member states enforcement agencies and Europol on the scale of illegal trade and its impact on the decline of the eel stock.”
The initial feedback period for the evaluation closed on 11 May, but a second consultation will be taking place sometime in October.