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Getting to grips with eel conservation

Countries from across the pan-European region have gathered for the first time to discuss the status of the eel conservation and consider new measures for their protection.


The European eel (Anguilla anguilla), a species that is known to be depleted, has a complex life cycle and a wide geographic range stretching from Northern Norway to the Mediterranean and North Africa. Mature eels migrate thousands of kilometres to the Sargasso Sea, south of Bermuda, where they spawn and die.


The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and the Sargasso Sea Commission therefore co-organised the first Range State Workshop for the European Eel in Galway, Ireland from 13 to 14 October 2016.


The meeting provided a unique opportunity for Range States – countries in which the eels live or migrate through - to consider measures such as protecting crucial spawning areas in the Sargasso Sea. Countries also debated whether to extend EU eel management plans to Range States. The plans see curbs on professional and recreational fishing, making it easier for young eel to migrate through rivers and restock suitable inland waters.


The eels’ complex life history traits mean that they are susceptible to a range of threats, both in marine and freshwater environments, and are challenging to manage and conserve. They are exploited both as juveniles and in their adult life stages. Other threats include changes in oceanic currents and climatic conditions, loss of freshwater habitat, diseases and barriers to migration. These include hydro-power stations which injure and/or kill eels - a study at a Danish hydro-power station indicated that ultimately only 37 per cent of tagged eels made it past the barrier.


There is significant concern regarding the status of Anguilla anguilla, due to a decline in recruitment and population of the species over the past four decades. In 2014 - as proposed by the Government of Monaco - the species was listed on CMS Appendix II, "having a conservation status which would significantly benefit from international co-operation".


CMS is administered by UN Environment and facilitates international cooperation between Range States through which migratory animals pass. It serves as a global platform for countries to conserve and sustainably use migratory animals across their range.


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