Eels at the Edge: Science, Status, and Conservation Concerns

A Conceptual Management Framework for the Restoration of the Declining European Eel Stock

Willem Dekker


Abstract.—The stock of the European eel Anguilla anguilla is in a critical state. A prolonged downward trend in landings since 1960 suggests a steady decline of the continental stock, while incoming recruitment fell to record low levels in the 1980s over almost all of Europe. Although the effect of oceanic factors cannot be ruled out, continental processes that have depleted the spawning stock are the most likely cause of the decline. Management strategies that are successful with other fish stocks may not work well for eels. An innovative management scheme that preserves adequate spawner production is urgently required. This paper examines the specific problems of the eel and proposes a solution from existing concepts in fish-stock management. It covers the problem of the wide and scattered distribution, the inability to set targets for the oceanic life stages, the distribution of responsibilities among management levels, the need to adapt management measures to local and time-varying (environmental) conditions, and the short time left to develop and implement a complex management system that achieves a sustainable regime. A conceptual framework for restoration of the declining European eel stock being outlined, progress in management and restoration of the eel is now a matter of political decisions.