Accelerating the recovery of the European Eel

Stop illegal trade and boost restocking

Last week The Guardian wrote an article about the large-scale, illegal European eel-trade. Every year tens of millions of juvenile eels disappear to Asia. Since 2009 there are strict rules for eel fishing. Quotas, restrictions and the ban on selling European eel outside Europe. Investigations by The Guardian shows that 20 tons are finding their way to eel farms in Asia. This is a significant number, perhaps 60 million pieces and is greater than the legitimate trade to the eel farmers of Europe. The impact is to frustrate the efforts of Europe member states and eel industry. To restore the eel population these fish should go to restocking. Last November DUPAN joined the Sustainable Eel Group in presenting this crisis to both CITES and the European Enforcement Authorities. The outcome has been greater collaboration between key member states notably France, Spain and the UK. We understand more consignments have been intercepted than ever before notably at international airports, Madrid, Paris, London and Hong Kong.

Since 2009 when the eel was listed at CITES Appendix 2 trade in European Eel is restricted to the European Union. The demand in Asia is so great that eel populations would quickly decline further and the current stabilised position undermined.

Each year 15 to 17 tons of European glass eels is used for consumption and aquaculture. In addition, around 13 to 15 tons of glass eels are annually collected for restocking of inland waters in many European countries. This restocking is the chosen remedial measure adopted by most member States in national Eel Management Plans. The total quantity of glass eels of consumptions and restocking in Europe is anticipated to be some 30 to 40 tons for the season 2015 / 2016. Other conservation measures recognised in the European Eel Regulation include unblocking migration pathways both in and out and especially the screening of water intakes to power station and water pumping.

Alex Koelewijn: “A Glass eel quota is only used by France and is based on an index with scientific advice. The calculation is independent of the need in the market. The biggest glass eels fishery is in France where the quota has been set at (57,5 tons). Spain and England also catch eels in the order of 5 plus tons each. The French quota on its own is nearly twice as high as the legal market needs; it is a trigger for illegal trade. It is not hard to reason where the remaining 35 tons of glass eels go to when they will not be used in Europe.

The Guardian reports that the eel farms in Asia have declared importing 20 tons of European glass eels for both 2014 and 2015. This is a crazy situation, because the Chinese authorities know export of European eels is illegal. In Asia prices of around 1.500 US Dollars per kilo of glass eels are paid. This extremely high price gives the illegal trade an estimated market value of 52 million UD Dollars.

Koelewijn: “It would be better to use the quota in line with the European Eel regulation. This states that for every kilo of glass eels caught 600 grams will be used for restocking. Imagine the market asked for 15 tons of glass eels, at least 23 tons should be restocked. Because the scientific quota is way higher more eels can be restocked. 80% of the current quota could be restocked to waters elsewhere in Europe, in stead of disappearing to Asia. That would yield tens of millions juvenile eels annually and give the recovery of the eel population a huge boost.

The Illegal trade and fishery can only be addressed when full traceability is introduced. Only then can the authorities and the industry guarantee effective control”.