Positive signs for European eels as recruitment increases

Published on
November 12, 2019

A new report, published by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, has revealed that recruitment of European eels has been increasing since 2011 at a statistically significant rate. 

The news is a positive sign for the European eel population, which has been listed on CITES for over a decade. Positive recruitment of the species had been on a steady decline since 1980, but since 2011, the rate has been increasing, with the highest increase seen in 2014. 

The Sustainable Eel Group, an international organization seeking to accelerate the conservation of the species, welcomed the news. 

“SEG strongly welcomes the encouraging statement from ICES that the recruitment of European eel is now on the rise,” Andrew Kerr, chairman of the group, said. “We believe that this really positive news is thanks to the Eel Regulation and the combined efforts of E.U. member states. This is proof that international collaboration however difficult can work and that for an extraordinary species like the European Eel is essential.”

The European eel has a complex life-cycle that is still not fully understood by science. However, one phase of its development – the “glass eel” stage – is well known and often exploited. Glass eels migrate to streams and rivers to mature, a stage where they are at their most vulnerable. 

Glass eels have, in the past, been targets for smugglers who illegally poach and smuggle the small creatures from Europe to Asia, where the eels are then raised in aquaculture operations. The small eels can be worth up to EUR 2,000 (USD 2,204) per kilogram, allowing smugglers to make a large amount of money in a short period of time. 

Europol, the E.U.’s law enforcement agency, recently revealed that 5,789 kilograms of smuggled eels have been seized in Europe and 154 people have been arrested during the latest fishing season. Those smuggled eels were estimated to have a value of over EUR 11.5 million (USD 12.6 million). 

Europol has stepped up its efforts to stop trafficking of the European eel in recent months. The organization also busted one of the largest smuggling rings found back in April 2018, when a Spain-based smuggling ring was busted with hundreds of kilograms of live glass eels. Authorities at the time estimated the group had managed to smuggle eels with a value of EUR 37 million (USD 40.7 million).

Still, despite the positive news of increased enforcement, the eels remain one of the most smuggled seafood products in the world. Estimate have the illicit trade of eels worth around EUR 3 billion (USD 3.3 billion) every year. 

“Countries must now redouble their efforts and fully implement their national eel management plans since eel recovery is going to take many more decades,” Kerr said. “We hope that the combination of scientists, conservationists and commercial peoples all working together will be an inspiration to others.”

Image courtesy of the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas

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