Sustainable Eel Group Develops New Standard

Sustainable eel fishing may start to increase in the European Union following the development of a new labelling scheme by the Sustainable Eel Group. The group, whose members include scientists, NGOs and policymakers, have developed a new standard (the Sustainable Eel Standard) to identify and promote best practice in the eel fishing industry. The development of the new standard is part of a move in the EU to put pressure on caterers and retailers to purchase eel only when they can be certain that it has been sustainably caught.

Eel populations have declined dramatically since monitoring began. A variety of factors have contributed to this decline including habitat destruction, pollution of waterways, disease, blocking of migratory pathways, and the complexity of the European eel lifecycle. These problems led to the eel being listed as endangered in 2008, after numbers had declined by as much as 90%. The new standard will start to tackle these problems by creating wetland habitats, monitoring water quality, and making alterations to the blocks in migratory pathways to allow eels to pass.

The new standard outlines key actions that the fishery must undertake in order to obtain a green score. These include:
• To achieve 40% escapement of eels, and minimise mortality during fishing
• To be licensed and provide accurate logbook data
• To use only legal gear
• To cause only negligible impacts on bycatch species or rare and protected species
• To cause on negligible impacts on habitats
• To active contribute in research and monitoring
• To develop and implement an eel management plan for restocking, and monitor the success of restocking
The report also contains recommendations for reducing the environmental and ecological impact of cultured eel and recommendations for animal welfare. Although these recommendations will ensure progression towards sustainability in the eel fishing industry the report also recognises that the fishery can not yet be called sustainable, as recovery of the stocks has not been sufficient.

The Sustainable Eel group is working with the Environment Agency to ensure that these recommendations are implemented in line with an EU Eel Management Plan