Enlisting for CITES-listed European eel

Experts gathered this week to consider the conditions under which potential future trade in CITES-listed European eel may be permitted to or from Europe.
Published: 13 March 2015

​​​​In what is the first advice request of its kind, ICES has been appointed by the European Commission to supply the science that could be used to create a framework for applying for a non-detriment finding for the European eel, a critically endangered species listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES).  Requiring prior confirmation by a CITES scientific authority, a non-detriment finding must show that any importing or exporting of a threatened animal or plant will not negatively impact upon the conservation status of the species in question. In the case of the eel, as an Appendix II-listed animal, this is mandatory for all the Convention’s Parties before export permits can be issued.

The workshop, WKEELCITES, held 10-12 March brought together experts in the field of eel assessments and from CITES to compile information on what criteria and thresholds could be used to develop a non-detriment finding. Criteria might include the levels of juvenile eels arriving from the sea as well as mortality rates and abundance or successive generations. The group also considered input into an assessment of the spatial scale on which such a finding could take place – the entire stock, of the EU, or of smaller regions – as well as possible accompanying conditions like quotas and size ranges of the creatures.

Changing tide?

Since the European eel was first included in the CITES database in 2009, the CITES EU Scientific Review Group has been weighing up whether a non-detriment finding could be applied to the species. The year after it first featured on the list, however, the group concluded that the stock situation was too perilous to perform a finding, and so eel exports from and imports into the EU were suspended – and have been since. Although current eel recruitment indices remain low, there has been a gentle upswing over recent years, prompting the reviewing scientists to consider under what circumstances they would reverse their 2010 conclusion; that is, to pass a non-detrimental finding and enable some trade in eel products to begin across the EU boundary.

Managing and rebuilding

The European eel, which appears under CITES Appendix II (species not necessarily vulnerable to extinction but which may face it should trade not incur strict regulation), has been an advisory staple of ICES for many years now. Having been evaluated as ‘outside safe biological limits’, advice over recent years has suggested that human impacts including fishing as well as hydropower and pumping station activity be reduced to the absolute minimum.

Rebuilding the European eel stock is a management challenge reflected in the occurrence of the creature across the continent. The eel stock is panmictic, meaning that its members make up a single population across a continental distribution and that adults from one part of the range (e.g. France) can produce juveniles that grow up much further afield (e.g. Tunisia, Greece, or Finland). This also means that every country with eel can contribute towards the recovery of the stock, with the maximum benefit achievable through the contribution of them all. A European Union Regulation takes in this distributed management style by setting a stock size target yet leaving it up to the Member States to decide how best to reach it.

Recovering the European eel stock is something both ICES and CITES are scientifically involved in, and as in addition to the technical work carried out during WKEELCITES, the meeting also represented the chance for both parties to harmonize their scientific thinking on this challenge.

WKEELCITES will report to ICES Advisory Committee (ACOM), which will then provide the official advice to the European Commission.

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European eel (anguilla anguilla)

​Photo: Jan Kamman, Vildaphoto, Sportvisserij Nederland​

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Enlisting for CITES-listed European eel

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