Putting eel back on the menu

Published on
May 22, 2011

A new standard for eels (Anguilla anguilla) was unveiled last week by the Sustainable Eel Group (SEG) a European coalition of eel fishermen and farmers, conservationists, policymakers, NGOs and scientists. They called for retailers and caterers to buy from certified sustainable sources and to put eel back on the menu.

“We have spend more that a year developing the sustainable standard and running trials in the UK, France, Germany, Holland, Denmark and Sweden. It promotes the most responsible methods of fishing, transportation and farming, and greatly reduces mortalities,” explained group chairman Andrew Kerr. “At the end of this year, the first ‘eco-labeled’ eels will be on sale, which means that consumers can once again enjoy this delicacy, but without any guilt.”

Eels start their life in the Sargasso Sea, then drift on currents towards European shores, where they migrate up rivers and streams. When they are fully grown, they swim 4,000 miles back to the Sargasso to breed.

In recent decades, there’s been a collapse in glass eel arrival numbers and a decline in adult populations. This led to EU regulation 1100/2007, and a European recovery plan linked to national eel management plans.

“The cause of the eel’s decline is complex, but includes oceanic and climate change, blocked migratory pathways such as flood defenses, mortality in water pumps, loss of habitat, pollution and overfishing,” said Andrew. “We are working on a number of levels to improve eel stocks and have looked at each part of the supply chain to see where mortality can be reduced. Work is also ongoing on the development of sustainable eel feed for ranchers and farmers, and on breeding eels in captivity.”

SEG hopes to educate and inform people about this mysterious and misunderstood creature, and is encouraging influential food writers and chefs to promote the sustainable cause.

“Our new standard is higher than that recommended in the European recovery plan and ensures that eels carrying the new eco-label have been sourced from a sustainable fishery and supply chain. This means they have been caught in an environmentally sensitive manner, and grown or ranched in conditions that meet European standards for health, bio-security, welfare and the environment,” stated Andrew.

“We also recognize that the term ‘sustainable’ cannot be truly applied to the European eel population until it is fully recovered, and this may take 30 to 40 years. We hope, however, that our efforts will speed things in the right direction.”

The European eel was listed as officially endangered in 1998, and in 2010 the UK Environment Agency imposed a temporary ban on the fishing of glass eels, elvers and mature eels.  Other EU countries imposed similar restrictions. Of great significance was a ban last year on the sale of glass eels to China, which takes the majority of the catch from France for on-growing. “We will be pressing for the export ban to stay in place as it puts huge pressure on stocks,” said Andrew.  

The majority of the UK’s top chefs have removed eel from their menus following criticism from environmental groups, and the large retailers won’t touch it. However, eel is still available in a number of delicatessens and remains a popular item on Billingsgate market.

Mike Berthet, director of seafood at M&J Seafood, one of the UK’s largest suppliers to top-end restaurants, attended the launch and pronounced the development “very interesting.”

“The-eco standard is good news for eel lovers, and I will be keeping a close eye on progress, with a view to reinstating it on our portfolio in the future,” he said.

Dr. Peter Duncan, aquaculture and fisheries program manager with the Marine Stewardship Council, welcomed the standard as a pro-active move and hoped it would result in both medium and longer term benefits. “I look forward to reviewing the detail, and in time, to receiving science-based evidence of improving fish stocks. I think that the development of hatcheries is key to the replenishment of this creature,” he said.

The last word goes to Andrew Kerr, who believes that there is no future for the eel without a commercial future. “We are working hard to help secure that future and to greatly improving the European eel population,” he said.

A new standard for eels (Anguilla anguilla) was unveiled last week by the Sustainable Eel Group (SEG) a European coalition of eel fishermen and farmers, conservationists, policymakers, NGOs and scientists. They called for retailers and caterers to buy from certified sustainable sources and to put eel back on the menu.

Eels start their life in the Sargasso Sea, then drift on currents toward European shores, where they migrate up rivers and streams. When they are fully grown, they swim 4,000 miles back to the Sargasso to breed.   


In recent decades, there’s been a collapse in glass eel arrival numbers and a decline in adult populations. This led to EU regulation 1100/2007, and a European recovery plan linked to national eel management plans.
“The cause of the eel’s decline is complex, but includes oceanic and climate change, blocked migratory pathways such as flood defenses, mortality in water pumps, loss of habitat, pollution and overfishing,” said Andrew. “We are working on a number of levels to improve eel stocks and have looked at each part of the supply chain to see where mortality can be reduced. Work is also ongoing on the development of sustainable eel feed for ranchers and farmers, and on breeding eels in captivity.”   
SEG hopes to educate and inform people about this mysterious and misunderstood creature, and is encouraging influential food writers and chefs to promote the sustainable cause.
“Our new standard is higher than that recommended in the European recovery plan and ensures that eels carrying the new eco label have been sourced from a sustainable fishery and supply chain. This means they have been caught in an environmentally sensitive manner, and grown or ranched in conditions that meet European standards for health, bio-security, welfare and the environment,” stated Andrew.
“We also recognize that the term ‘sustainable’ cannot be truly applied to the European eel population until it is fully recovered, and this may take 30 to 40 years. We hope, however, that our efforts will speed things in the right direction.” 
The European eel was listed as officially endangered in 1998, and in 2010 the UK Environment Agency imposed a temporary ban on the fishing of glass eels, elvers and mature eels.  Other EU countries imposed similar restrictions. Of great significance was a ban last year on the sale of glass eels to China, which takes the majority of the catch from France for on-growing. “We will be pressing for the export ban to stay in place as it puts huge pressure on stocks,” said Andrew.   
The majority of the UK’s top chefs have removed eel from their menus following criticism from environmental groups, and the large retailers won’t touch it. However, eel is still available in a number of delicatessens and remains a popular item on Billingsgate market.
Mike Berthet, director of seafood at M&J Seafood, one of the UK’s largest suppliers to top-end restaurants, attended the launch and pronounced the development “very interesting.”
“The-eco standard is good news for eel lovers, and I will be keeping a close eye on progress, with a view to reinstating it on our portfolio in the future,” he said.
Dr. Peter Duncan, aquaculture and fisheries program manager with the Marine Stewardship Council, welcomed the standard as a pro-active move and hoped it would result in both medium and longer term benefits. “I look forward to reviewing the detail, and in time, to receiving science-based evidence of improving fish stocks. I think that the development of hatcheries is key to the replenishment of this creature,” he said.   
The last word goes to Andrew Kerr, who believes that there is no future for the eel without a commercial future. “We are working hard to help secure that future and to greatly improving the European eel population,” he said.

 

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