Saving the eel: NGOs call on the government

BLOOM, France Nature Environnement, Longitude 181, Des Requins et Des Hommes, FishSec, MedReAct, Oceana and Seas at Risk are calling on Hervé Berville, French Secretary of State for the Sea, and Christophe Béchu, French Minister for Ecological Transition, to promote a moratorium on the fishing of European eel (juvenile eel) throughout the Mediterranean basin, as an extension of existing French provisions. This appeal comes just a few weeks before the annual meeting of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), which will be held in Split from 6 to 9 November.


According to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), glass eel recruitment (contribution to the existing stock) has steadily declined to very low levels (from 0.5 to 10% compared to reference periods depending on the region), the lowest levels ever recorded in the Mediterranean. For 2023, ICES has indicated that “when the precautionary approach is applied, there should be zero catches in all habitats in 2023. This applies to both recreational and commercial catches and includes catches of glass eels for restocking and aquaculture.

Last year, the GFCM introduced a total ban on recreational eel fishing and extended temporal fishing closures from three to six months. In addition, it committed to examining further measures in 2023, including a total ban on glass eel fishing in the Mediterranean, and a long-term management plan in 2024.

Given the increasingly critical situation of the European eel, and the fact that France already has a national moratorium on glass eel fishing in the Mediterranean, NGOs are now asking the French Secretary of State for the Sea, Hervé Berville, to promote an initial one-year moratorium on glass eel fishing extended to the entire Mediterranean basin.

“This is the minimum amount of effort necessary to restore an emblematic species that we are in danger of losing, but which still finds its way onto the market,” say the NGOs signing the appeal. The current state of the eel population jeopardizes not only the future of the species, but also that of the fishers who make their living from it.”

Fifteen years after the EU adopted the ‘Eel Regulation’ (EC 1100/2007), the population has not recovered. A recent progress report shows that no overall progress has been made. On the contrary, the situation has deteriorated further. Despite the scientific advice of ‘zero catches’, eels are still targeted by commercial and recreational fisheries in most EU Member States.


The Mediterranean region (under the governance of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean) has set European eel management on a gradual positive course in recent years. Among other things, the fact that current temporary measures cover all habitats, including freshwater, is very important. At this year’s GFCM annual meeting in Split, from 6 to 9 November, additional measures for 2024 and a long-term plan for the recovery of eel stocks in the region will be discussed.

As a reminder, France remains one of the largest eel fishing nations in the EU and the Mediterranean. In particular, it predominates in the glass eel fishery, with 89% of reported catches in the EU. “As a country with the largest maritime coastlines, we need to do much more to ensure the recovery of the European eel, including taking additional measures in the Mediterranean,” said Stéphan Beaucher, French delegate for MedReAct.


1 –  The European eel (Anguilla anguilla) population has long been in decline. It is classified as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN, 2018).

Eels have a complex life cycle and a theoretical lifespan ranging from 10 to 20 years. The tiny, translucent juveniles that arrive each year from the Sargasso Sea where they were born on European coasts are called elvers. When they reach brackish or fresh waters, their color changes and they transform into yellow eels, which live along our coasts, in rivers and lakes. When they reach maturity, they metamorphose into silver eels and make the long journey to the Sargasso Sea to reproduce.

2 – In its new advice, ICES states that “on the basis of ecosystem-based management considerations: all anthropogenic mortalities unrelated to fishing should be zero, and the quantity and quality of eel habitats should be restored. This includes restoring connectivity and the physical, chemical and biological properties of habitats”.

3 – ICES recruitment data show a dramatic decline compared to the reference period (1960-1979). Researchers believe that even in the absence of defined biological reference points, the European eel population is probably well below the usual management indicators.

4 –  Only two countries, Ireland and Slovenia, have banned all European eel fishing.

5 – Adult eel landings in the EU:

In 2020 (ICES, 2021), over 1,100 tonnes of adult eels were landed in ports in the Baltic Sea, which is the main catching area. The majority of these catches were silver eels on their way to the Sargasso Sea. A few countries have not reported landings for 2020, such as Germany, for which figures have been estimated to 200 tonnes for commercial fishing and 276 tonnes for recreational fishing on the basis of the previous three years.

In most EU countries, landings have been declining since the adoption of the recovery plan in 2007. It is difficult to know to what extent this is due to restrictions or to the fact that the population has fallen to a very low level. However, the Netherlands and France stand out as the countries that have increased their declared commercial landings in recent years (475 tonnes and 330 tonnes respectively) in 2020.

The high proportion of misreporting remains highly problematic, and may be at the root of the confusion over French figures in ICES data.

Read the appeal from NGOs (in French)

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