Published 1st June 2010
Background—biology, production, trade and conservation: The family Anguillidae, commonly referred to as freshwater eels, contains 15 species, all in the genus Anguilla distributed throughout tropical and temperate waters, except for the eastern Pacific and south Atlantic (Silfvergrip, 2009). The various life stages, ranging from juvenile to adult, of all Anguilla species are harvested and traded on a global scale for consumption.
The European Eel Anguilla anguilla, the Japanese Eel A. japonica, the American Eel A. rostrata and the Shortfinned Eel A. australis, are known to be particularly important commercially (FAO, 2009). In addition to being fished and used directly for consumption, wild juvenile eels or “glass eels” are also caught and used as “seed” in aquaculture production or farming. Eel farming, which is responsible for over 90% of all Anguilla production worldwide (FAO, 2009), is reliant on catching and rearing wild-caught glass eels, as raising eel larvae to the glass eel stage in captivity has only had limited success as yet (Briand et al., 2008).
Prior to 1990, eel farming was almost exclusively carried out using species of local provenance. European Eel was cultured in Europe and Japanese Eel in Asia. However, a decline in A. japonica stocks, the relatively abundant supplies of A. anguilla glass eels and their cheap price compared to A. japonica, led to many Asian eel farms switching to A. anguilla for their culture material at the end of the 1990s (Ringuet et al., 2002). What was once a European fishery feeding European farms and consumption therefore became an industry of global significance.
Populations of Anguilla species have declined considerably over the last 30 years (Casselman and Cairns, 2009); this loss has been attributed to a number of factors, including catches for international trade. Due to concerns that trade was having a serious impact on A. anguilla populations in particular, this species was proposed for listing in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 2007.
The listing came into force on 13 March 2009, as did the listing of A. anguilla in Annex B of Council Regulation (EC) No. 338/97, which implements CITES within the European Union (EU). Prior to this, the European Commission (EC) also adopted Council Regulation (EC) No. 1100/2007 establishing measures for the recovery of the stock of the European Eel (18 September 2007). This includes the requirement for Member States to establish national Eel Management Plans and measures for restocking. Trade in A. anguilla glass eels (defined in the EU as eels less than 12 cm in length) is currently a principal concern for European Eel conservation.
It was decided at the 47th Meeting of the Scientific Review Group Meeting in March 2009 that future export quotas for glass eels (only permitted from Member States with management plans approved by the EC) are to be based on catches from the 2007/2008 fishing season and that exports of other live eels and eel products need to be considered on a case-by-case basis by national CITES authorities, taking into account national Eel Management Plans (EC, 2009a). To ensure future management decisions for the European Eel are based on the best available information, the dynamics of global trade in eel commodities have to be properly understood, in addition to EU Member States having knowledge of European Eel stocks, recruitment and catches.
Trade in eels and eel products, however, is very complex, and although there are a number of data sources for eel trade available, individually they only provide a partial and sometimes inaccurate picture of this trade.
of all Anguilla eel trade is from farmed sources
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