European eel stocks remain critical, ICES warns

The latest official advice realeased by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) to the European Union (EU) shows that whilst there has been a slight increase in glass eel recruitment, the status of stocks remains critical.

​​​​​​​​​​ICES advice for 2014, applicable for the widely-distributed and migratory stock of European eel (Anguilla anguilla), expresses the need for all human-caused mortality (e.g. recreational and commercial fishing, hydropower, and pollution) influencing production and escapement of silver eels to be reduced to as close to zero as possible. This should remain the case until there is clear evidence of a continued increase in both recruitment and the adult stock.

Bucking the trend over previous years, however, is news that the recruitment of glass eel – the creatures at their see-through stage upon passing from salt to fresh water – has increased. Over the last two years, this number of juveniles surviving to join the adult population in European waters has gone up from less than 1 per cent to 1.5 per cent of the reference level (mean numbers in 1960-1979) in the North Sea area and from 5 per cent to 10 per cent in the west-coast area of Europe.

ICES Deputy Head of Advisory Programme Henrik Sparholt stated:

It is an unexpected and positive sign that glass eel numbers are going up, but the amount of glass eel are still much lower than they should be for the eel stock size to be judged within safe biological​l limits by ICES. Urgent actions to help rebuild the stock are still needed


A management framework for eel within the EU was established in 2007 through an EC regulation, but there is no internationally coordinated management plan for the whole stock area. The objective of the EU regulation is the protection, recovery, and sustainable use of the stock. To achieve the objective, Member States have developed eel management plans for their river basin districts, designed to permit with high probability the escapement to the sea of at least 40 per cent of the silver eel biomass relative to the best estimate of escapement that would have existed if no anthropogenic influences had impacted the stock. ICES has evaluated the conformity of the national management plans with EC Regulation No. 1100/2007 (ICES, 2009a, 2010a) and progress in implementing the Environmental Management Plan (EMP) actions (ICES, 2013a).

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