Skip to main content

News|13 Dec, 2017

Uncertain future for the European eel

European eel
European eel (Anguilla anguilla).

The EU fisheries ministers have for the first time agreed for a temporary closure of 3 months in 2018 for the European eel fisheries in EU waters of ICES area, which includes the Baltic Sea. While WWF regards this as a necessary first step in absence of a complete closure, this temporary management effort will have little effect on the recovery of the critically endangered eel.

A general ban on eel fishing, as demanded by the European Commission and environmentalists, was rejected by the fisheries ministers at the Fisheries Council. Instead, the fishery will temporarily be closed for 3 months during 1 September 2018 to January 2019. This applies to eels that are over 12 cm in length. This is far from the conservation measures needed and advised by science, where International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) clearly advises to reduce all pressures to close to zero in both fishing and anthropogenic impacts.

The migratory eel makes its way out from the Baltic Sea to the Sargasso Sea to spawn in the autumn. In the absence of a complete fishery closure it is important that the fishing ban is applied in the ‘right’ months. For the ban to be effective, WWF recommends Member States to stop fishing during the most intense fishing months to avoid larger numbers being caught.

The effectiveness of this measure greatly depends on the Member States will to assign the ban of their national eel fisheries during the period when both fishing and eel migration along coastal waters is most intense, since there is no set total catch limit,” says Ottilia Thoreson, Director for the WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme.

Member States have agreed to also take further steps to protecting the stock in national inland waters, through strengthening of national eel management plans during all stages of the eel life cycles. Today’s measure for eel regulation must be the beginning of genuine conservation efforts, including management of fishery for young glass eels, stopping illegal trafficking and ensuring that rivers are cleaner and not blocked by turbines and hydroelectric power plants.

ICES advise on eel fishing.

The European eel belongs to one and the same stock. It is classified as acute threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The eel has red light in WWF’s consumer seafood guide and shows no signs of recovery. The migration of juvenile eel, “silver eel”, from the Sargasso Sea is down to a few percent compared with the 1970s.

In the Baltic Sea, fishing is mainly targeting migrating silver eel returning to Sargasso to spawn. At the Atlantic coast against France and Spain, glass eels are fished, ie. young eels of 2-3 years.

The eel has an exciting life cycle. It is hatched at a large depth in the Sargasso Sea off the American East Coast, powered by the Atlantic Ocean stream and swims up into rivers and lakes in Europe.

In the cold waters of the north, the life span can exceed 80 years if the eel becomes trapped. Usually it returns to Sargasso to reproduce when it is 5-20 years and then dies. The world’s oldest eel died 155 years old at the end of 2014, The eel can even cross country.

For more information, contact:

Ottilia Thoreson, Acting Director, WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme
Tel: +46 8-624 74 15, +46 732 – 745 867

Share this article

Other news

Last modified 22/11/19

Close search

Do you have questions?

Go to contact us if you have questions.

For press

Visit out newsroom where you can find press releases, reports, and new articles.

Telephone our press team: 08-54657500