Norwegian fisheries regulators have banned all fishing of the critically endangered European eel starting in 2010, cut 2009 catch quotas by 80 percent and stopped all recreational fishing as of July 1st. Stock of the eels hit historically low levels and continue to decline. According to WWF-Norway this decision represents a major conservation decision that is a model for proper fisheries management.
As early as 1999, the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) stated that the European eel stock was outside safe biological limits, and that the fishery was unsustainable. Yet, fishing has been ongoing for decades, despite scientific advice.
It is now listed as critically endangered in Norway and on the IUCN Redlist. Stocks are at lowest levels with spawning levels at between one and five percent from their 1970 level, with only the Atlantic area seeing higher levels. In the Baltic Sea, including Kattegat and Skagerrak, indices show a sharp decline in young yellow eel stocks since 1950.
The European eel is a snake-like fish, who’s color varies from brown to silver depending on its stage of life. Its rounded body only wiggles and it usually on the bottom, hiding in the mud or in small gaps in the rocks. It feeds on small fishes, carrion and water invertebrates.
“A total fishing ban is the strongest measure the fisheries management can use, and when a species is critically endangered one must use the strongest and most efficient measures. This protection should have been implemented many years ago, and we are hoping that the long-overdue protection is not too late,” said Rasmus Hansson, WWF-Norway CEO.
A successful rebuilding strategy for the eel, both in Norway and the EU, will have a substantial impact on eel numbers in Norwegian waters. Consequently, Norway has a great responsibility in influencing both the management and the research that is being undertaken in Europe, where fishing for eel continues, despite the very severe and depleted state of the stock.
The WWF urges Norway Fisheries Minister, Helga Pedersen, to fight for the EU to take similar bold measures in its fisheries management.
Copyright © 2009 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC