The population of the European eel has decreased dramatically since the 80s. This special fish, with one of the most extraordinary life cycles, is important to many European food cultures. In East-Asia, especially Japan and China, the eel is also popular in the local cuisine. In an effort to protect the population of the European eel from further decline, the EU imposed an export ban in 2010. Unfortunately, this ban has not necessarily had a positive impact on the eel population, due to the increase in illegal trade since the ban. The illegal trade in glass eels is currently the largest wildlife crime in Europe but many people remain unaware of this. This lucrative business is worth up to €4 billion.
Before the EU Fisheries Council came together on the 17th and 18th of December 2018, Florian Stein (Sustainable Eel Group) stated that illegal trade could partly be reduced by including glass eels in the scope of the three month fishing closure for eels. This could facilitate a stricter control of glass eel fisheries which would reduce the illegal exports to Asia.
On the 17th and 18th of December, the EU Fisheries Council came together to decide on the new fish quotas, but also to decide on new protective measures for eels. Glass eel is now included in the scope of the three month fishing closure, but it remains to be seen whether this will be an effective measure. It all depends on the implementation of the measure, since it is up to the Member States to decide on the consecutive three months (between August and February) they will close the eel fishing season. The peak of the season for catching eels could therefore still be avoided.
Sources: Florian Stein, ‘Europe’s Largest Wildlife Crime: Illegal Trade of the European Eel’ (27 July 2018) Oxford Martin Programme on the Illegal Wildlife Trade; World Wildlife Fund, ‘Tackling International Wildlife Crime’ (WWF, 2018); Blue Planet Society, ‘Possible EU temporal eel fishing closure and its potential implications for glass eel trafficking’ (6 December 2018).