Declining eel stocks - a slippery problem

The following speech was delivered to the European Parliament's Plenary Session in Strasbourg on 10 September 2013.

The European eel is shrouded in mystery. We know that it begins its life cycle in the Saragossa Sea in the middle of the North Atlantic and then spends almost a year drifting towards the European coasts where it metamorphoses into the transparent larval stage known as the glass eel. The glass eels then develop into elvers and swim upstream, spending most of their adult lives in fresh water before returning to the Saragossa Sea to spawn and die.

The problem is, at almost every stage of their life cycle, they are targeted by fishermen. Glass eels are a famous delicacy, much sought after in Japan and other nations. A kilo of glass eels can fetch almost as much as a kilo of gold. The glass eels that survive this stage and develop into elvers face the hazards of man-made blockages to their freshwater habitats, such as tidal wind arrays, hydro-electric dams and water pumps.

The result has been a 90% collapse of the species, which is now on the critically endangered list. That is why the Lovin Report is an essential step towards helping eel stocks to recover. We need to reduce fishing pressure on glass eels and put in place long-term measures which enable elvers to enter their natural habitat and escape to the Saragossa Sea to spawn. It is virtually impossible to breed eels in captivity, because the adults need to complete a 4,000 mile journey before they can spawn. Scientists are trying to recreate this epic journey to the Saragossa Sea artificially in tanks, by making adult eels swim for 4,000 miles against a constant current, but the chances of success are slim.

In the meantime we need to implement short and long-term measures to protect our eel stocks from further decline.