Did you know this about the eel?
What's going on with the eels?
In the past fifty years, the eel stock in Europe has declined by more than 90%. Things are going so badly that the eel has been given the status ‘critically endangered’ on the ‘red list’ established by the IUCN (the International Union for Nature Conservation).
What makes the European eel so special?
These eels can live in both fresh and salt water and have an extremely long lifespan (the oldest eel ever caught in the Netherlands was 85 years old). Eel also lead a rather bizarre life. In order to reproduce, they swim 6,000 kilometres to the Sargasso Sea (near Bermuda). The hatchlings then swim all the way back to Europe. A female eel takes 12 to 25 years to reach sexual maturity and dies after releasing her eggs. This means that an eel can reproduce only once in its lifetime. Exactly how that reproduction works remains a mystery.
Why are eels in such a tight spot?
Only fifty years ago, all of Europe's waterways, including those in the Netherlands, were full of eels. Major causes of the species’ dramatic decline are barriers such as dams, locks and pumping stations, along with poaching, pollution, diseases and overfishing.
Is the European eel going to make it?
We certainly hope so – but that will not happen by itself. While fish all around the world are having a tough time, eels are particularly vulnerable because of their life cycle. As if that were not enough, eel is also a sought-after delicacy, not only in Europe but particularly in Asia. Hopefully, campaigns such as this will raise awareness among consumers, businesses and politicians and therefore provide much-needed protection for the eels. They badly need our help!
Can't eels be farmed like other fish?
Unfortunately not, although there is a great deal of research being done on the subject. While scientists have succeeded in getting eels to spawn, the newly hatched eels refuse to eat and subsequently die. There is also no scientific evidence to support releasing eels into the wild, as it is unclear whether the restocked eels will find their way back to the Sargasso Sea. Although most of the eel eaten in the Netherlands does come from a farm, these farms simply raise glass eel caught in the wild and fatten them into large adult eel.
Isn't anything being done at the European level?
The European Eel Regulation has been in force since 2007. The Regulation includes international agreements on measures to improve the eel stock. The European Commission had asked experts to evaluate whether the Regulation has been effective. It appears that the downward trend of glass eel recruitment finally has stopped and is increasing slightly– but the bad news is that glass eel numbers are still critically low.
Did the member states fail to act? No, the problem was not one of inaction, as governments did enact some measures to reduce fishing. A three month fishing closure has been implemented, and some member states have closed eel fisheries. Increasing attention is also being paid to circumventing the barriers in ditches and rivers that prevent eels from continuing their journey. Such barriers include locks and pumping stations. These are where the major challenges lie, according to the experts. Removing or bypassing these barriers would yield real results. However, this would be costly, as there are tens of thousands of large and small water works in Europe.
Who are the people behind the campaign?
RAVON (Reptile Amphibian Fish Research Netherlands) is a consultancy and research institution. We are also concerned with the protection of reptiles, amphibians, and fish. This is done with the cooperation of donors and a large network of volunteers.
Good Fish wants the Netherlands to eat 100% SUSTAINABLE FISH. This means fish which are caught or farmed without damaging the environment. Our aim is to target the entire seafood chain, from producers to the catering industry and from supermarkets to consumers. In this way, we strive to promote sustainable and responsible fishing and fish farming.
What can I do to help?
Support the campaign by signing the petition and persuading your family, friends and colleagues to do the same. The more people who give ‘power to the eel’, the more we can do to save the species.
Our company wants to support the eel. Is that possible?
Of course! We have a toolkit that helps companies show support for our campaign. There are also other options, such as organising a sustainable fish week in your canteen or help conduct glass eel counts. Contact us to set this up as soon as possible!
Can I still eat eel?
It is truly ‘red alert’ for the eel. As long as the European eel is listed as 'critically endangered' on the IUCN red list of endangered species, we recommend NOT eating eel. Are you curious about Good Fish? In other words, fish caught or farmed without damaging the environment? Consult your national fish guide!
Which fish should I eat instead of eel?
Try smoked trout. Unlike eel, trout can be farm-raised! Choose trout with the ASC quality mark or organic trout.
If you like smoked eel because of its smoky flavour, try other smoked fish, such as mackerel, sprat herring or catfish.