Accelerating the recovery of the European Eel

SEG hails unity of biggest ever European eel conference

The largest ever conference of European academics, politicians and eel specialists has concluded in London with a resounding message from delegates – that the adoption of sustainable environmental practices on rivers, estuaries and waterways across the Continent can accelerate the recovery of the European Eel and other species of migratory fish.

Andrew Kerr, Chairman of Sustainable Eel Group (SEG), summarised the conference:

“We were delighted that nearly 200 VIPs from all over the world gathered in London to discuss the best ways to return eel populations to abundance in Europe.

“Key politicians from the UK and European Parliaments, professors from Europe’s leading universities, senior figures in international NGOs and a wide variety of eel and marine specialists came together to share details of their great work to help eels.

“We heard how migratory pathways are being unblocked, tens of millions of eels are being restocked in inland waterways, more successful aquaculture practices are being researched, and policy makers are engaged, listening and encouraging new initiatives.

“This is just a start and there is much more to do, but we all united behind one message – that by working together on a Continental scale we can accelerate the eels’ recovery, and this will bring incredibly valuable environmental, social and economic benefits to communities throughout Europe.”

The Institute of Fisheries Management (IFM) European Eel Conference opened on 26 June with an address by Lord de Mauley, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Resource Management, the Local Environment and Environmental Science at DEFRA; and was closed on 27 June with a speech by Stuart Agnew MEP, one of the 25 members of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee.

Lord de Mauley told the conference that over 2,000km of English and Welsh rivers and waterways had been reopened to eels and other migratory fish following the installation of over 300 new fish passes by the Environment Agency (EA) since 2009.  Additionally Michelle Walker of the Rivers Trusts announced at the conference that they too had delivered a further 200 passes.

Heidi Stone of the Environment Agency described how EA teams had prioritised an additional 700 obstructions for passes or screening before 2015.

Professor Willem Dekker of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences outlined research that proved how European eels only spawn in the Sargasso Sea, but their elvers reach every European country by sea and river. He called for a Three Musketeers-style “All for one and one for all” multinational approach to assist the species.

Experts from Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Germany, UK, France, Portugal and Italy all updated the conference on how the Eel Management Plans in their countries were delivering better access to waterways for eels to migrate, grow and mature.

Speaking on behalf of Professor Oliviero Mordenti and the team at the University of Bologna, Michaela Mandelli reported on the significant progress made by her research into the breeding and feeding of eels in captivity.

Bart Fokkens, Chairman of the European Centre for River Restoration, described the opportunities and challenges presented by the geography of the European river network, with 80% of rivers traveling through two or more countries, and gave examples of coordinated multinational initiatives that are benefiting eel recovery.

Andy Don of the UK Environment Agency, and Alex Kolelewijn of DUPAN in the Netherlands, individually reported on the extensive activities that their organisations are undertaking to help eels overcome dykes, weirs and other barriers to migration.

And David Righton and Alan Walker of the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science gave a fascinating description of their latest research into the behaviour of eels during their lives in marine and freshwater environments, and their observations of the strategies used by the European Eel to survive and evolve. Using satellite tagging, this new research showed that the return migratory behaviour of silver eels was not impaired by their trans-location as glass eels as part of restocking projects. They also emphasised that the eel is just one population for the whole of Europe and North Africa. Their studies of the eels’ life history showed extensive evidence of significant eel coastal populations and their movement between sea and fresh water. Both these scientific approaches emphasised the importance to the recovery programme of free migration pathways.

Andrew Kerr of SEG concluded:

“Everyone at the conference was united by their desire to see the European Eel recover and their understanding of the importance of working together and sharing knowledge to achieve this. We’ve made huge progress since the last conference in 2009 in developing the sustainable programme but are under no illusions about the scale of the tasks ahead.”

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About Sustainable Eel Group:

Sustainable Eel Group is a Europe wide conservation and science led organisation working with partner bodies and individuals to accelerate the eels recovery.

SEG was founded as a not for profit limited company at Fishmongers Hall, London in 2010.

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