Eels facing population crash, conservation groups warn

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Eels are facing a population crash, conservation groups have warned, after annual fishing negotiations for key EU waters ended with quotas set higher than those recommended by scientists.

Eels are critically endangered, and conservation groups and scientists have argued that all EU eel fisheries should be closed, to allow populations space to recover.

However, in annual negotiations on EU waters, including the North East Atlantic, which concluded in the early hours of Tuesday morning, the European Commission only agreed to extend the closure of sea ​​eel fishing from the current three-month closure to six months. , to cover the migration of juvenile eels and mature eels swimming between the sea and rivers.

Negotiations between the EU and the UK, and between the EU and Norway, on shared fishing areas covering key fish species such as cod, whiting and haddock are still ongoing.

UK catch levels for 2023 are expected to be set later this week, with a decision expected before the end of Thursday.

The EU’s decision to allow eel fishing to continue and set catch limits for some other species that conservationists are concerned about, comes as the bloc strives to portray itself as a wildlife conservation champion at the UN COP15 Biodiversity Summit, currently taking place in Montreal. .

Eel fishing in Aydin, Turkey in November 2021. Photography: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Jenni Grossmann, Fisheries Science and Policy Advisor at ClientEarth, warned that eels were on the brink. “[The EU’s] the science-defying reluctance to shut down all eel fisheries may well turn out to be the final nail in the coffin for this critically endangered species,” she said.

The mysterious life cycle of eels – including the fall migration to the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic to spawn – is still only partially understood.

But they are now threatened by overfishing, obstruction of waterways and pollution. They play a vital role in marine and freshwater ecosystems, where they are preyed upon by many other species of fish and birds.

Fishing quotas have also been set for cod, plaice and langoustine which, according to the European Commission, are at the bottom of scientific advice. But for hake, anglerfish, megrim and horse mackerel in some waters there has been a substantial quota increase.

The EU has said the deal on stocks in the North East Atlantic and Skagerrak fishing grounds is worth around €3.5bn (£3bn) and could for the first time lead to “a very substantial increase in landings” in the Atlantic and the North Sea in 2023, worth around €81 million more than in 2022.


Fishing quotas have also been set for cod, plaice and langoustine which, according to the European Commission, are at the bottom of scientific advice. Photograph: Vickie Flores/EPA

Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, said: “Today’s decisions show that the EU is at the forefront of sustainable fisheries management.

“By agreeing to set fishing opportunities in accordance with scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), we are continuing our efforts to manage our stocks at healthy levels. There is still room for improvement, however, especially when it comes to precautionary advice stocks.

The EU’s annual fishing rights negotiations were meant to be history, under reforms started nearly a decade ago that should have set multi-annual targets based on scientific advice known as of “maximum sustainable yield”.

But the rows continue each December as member states fail to agree on long-term targets and come under pressure from fishing fleets to allow higher catches.

Grossmann said: “Each year, fisheries ministers ignore increasingly dire warnings, set excessive quotas, experts react with dismay and the cycle begins again next December.

“The longer they do this, the more stocks will end up being classified as vulnerable, endangered or worse – it’s not rocket science. This year, the moment is particularly poignant: all this goes against the ambitions displayed by the leaders to protect biodiversity during the Cop15 this week.

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