On October 28, 2022, the EU Commission proposed the extension of the closed season for eel from three to six months. This proposal covers marine waters, adjacent brackish waters in the Northeast Atlantic (including the Baltic Sea) and the Mediterranean Sea and is intended to cover the largest migratory movements of glass eels and silver eels and is to apply to commercial and recreational fisheries.
Background information on the EU Commission's proposal
- The 6-month closed season is so far only a proposal[i] of the EU Commission. Without the consent of the EU member states, the change cannot be implemented. Negotiations on this topic will be held, along with other fisheries issues, at the meeting of the EU Commission and fisheries ministers on December 12 and 13, 2022.
- Extending the closed season from three to six months would have massive socio-economic consequences for structurally weak coastal areas in Denmark, Sweden and Germany and thus contradicts the measures (Blue Economy[ii]) and priorities (Green Deal[iii]) of the EU Commission. In other regions of Europe, there is hardly any fishing for migrating silver eels in coastal waters. Since the introduction of the EU Eel Regulation (2007), eel fishing has already declined sharply on the coasts of the countries mentioned, including the German coast[iv].
- Most of the glass eel fishery in France is not affected by the closed season because the fishing areas are outside EU jurisdiction[v]. It is unlikely that France will extend the closed season to glass eel fishing areas in national territorial waters (estuaries of major rivers).
- On October 20, France set the national glass eel fishing quota for the 2022/2023 season to a total of 51,113 kilograms[vi]. This level of about 12%[vii] of the annual glass eel catch is adequate for stocking measures to support stock recovery under the European Eel Management Plans and the needs of European eel aquaculture.
- As long as stocking remains enshrined in the EU Eel Regulation (EC) No 1100/2007[viii] as a legitimate measure to support stock recovery, EMFAF funds will also be available to co-finance stocking. A timely change of the EU Eel Regulation is highly unlikely after the evaluation in 2020 ("Regulation is fit for purpose!")[ix].
- In Germany, the extension of the closed season to 6 months during the main migration period probably means the end of (eel) fishing in the coastal regions of Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. This would result in the loss of socio-economic value creation and culinary culture.
- The Commission's proposal is at odds with the holistic approach as promoted by the Commission in September. The vast majority of member states had agreed with this holistic approach[x].
Assessment of the DAFV
When viewed in isolation from other measures, the Commission's proposal looks like window dressing - suggesting a large protective effect that is in fact modest when taking the comparatively small area affected (coastal areas in Denmark, Sweden and Germany) and the lack of access to glass eel fisheries (national territorial waters outside EU jurisdiction) into account.
Instead of yet again sanctioning recreational and commercial fisheries - which actively support stock recovery through stocking and habitat improvement - the EU Commission and member states should return to the holistic approach as defined in the EU Eel Regulation.
Should the EU Commission pursue the sole intention of extending the closed season to 6 months, we consider this to be very problematic due to the low protective effect with simultaneous socio-economic damage in structurally weak regions. From the point of view of the DAFV, the measures and their consequences would be in contradiction to the European Green Deal and the development of a sustainable Blue Economy.
To our knowledge, the effects of the currently valid 3-month closed season have not yet been evaluated by the Commission, let alone assessed. But wouldn't that be the basic requirement before changing a management measure? In addition, it is to be feared that eel will continue to be caught and consumed - but then completely uncontrolled and illegally.
However, should the Commission intend to shake up the member states with the proposal and motivate them to give serious thought to effective alternative measures as part of a holistic approach, we welcome the strategic approach of the EU Commission.
From DAFV's point of view, the shutdown of hydropower plants in migration corridors during night-time, as set out in the Taxonomy Regulation and advocated by Commissioner Sinkevičius, is the most effective measure for the protection of the European eel. In addition, it serves biodiversity in rivers and streams according to the Habitats and Water Framework Directives in conjunction with the Environmental Liability Directive and the European Biodiversity Strategy for 2030[xi].
[ii] Europäische Kommission (2021) European Green Deal: Developing a sustainable blue economy in the European Union. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/api/files/document/print/en/ip_21_2341/IP_21_2341_EN.pdf
[iii] Europäische Kommission (2019) The European Green Deal sets out how to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, boosting the economy, improving people's health and quality of life, caring for nature, and leaving no one behind. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/api/files/document/print/en/ip_19_6691/IP_19_6691_EN.pdf
[iv] e.g., Dorow M, Paetsch U (2017) Bewirtschaftung des Aals im Binnenbereich des Landes Mecklenburg-Vorpommern zwischen 1955 und 2015. Mitteilungen der Landesforschungsanstalt für Landwirtschaft und Fischerei. Heft 58
[v] JRC European Commission (2010) A pan-European delimitation of coastal waters. Compliance with EU environmental legislation. EUR 24654 EN. doi: 10.2788/71030
[vii] proportion of the modelled glass eel recruitment of 440,000 kg for the year 2015 in Bornarel et al. 2017
[viii] EU (2007) VERORDNUNG (EG) Nr. 1100/2007 DES RATES vom 18. September 2007 mit Maßnahmen zur Wiederauffüllung des Bestands des Europäischen Aals. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2007:248:0017:0023:DE:PDF
[ix] European Commission, Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, MacNab, S., Luchetta, G., Nimmo, F., et al.(2020) Evaluation of the Eel Regulation : final report, Publications Office, 2020, https://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2771/679816
[x] DAFV (2022) Umdenken beim Management des Europäischen Aals. https://www.dafv.de/projekte/europaarbeit/item/562-umdenken-beim-management-des-europaeischen-aals
[xi] Europäische Kommission (2020) Mitteilung er Kommission an das Europäische Parlament, den Rat, den Europäischen Wirtschafts- und Sozialausschuss und den Ausschuss der Regionen. EU-Biodiversitätsstrategie für 2030. COM(2020) 380 final