The European eel, Anguilla anguilla, is widely distributed throughout European estuarine and inland waters. Estimates at the glass eel stage indicate that recruitment across Europe has fallen to below five percent of historic levels. ICES advises that the stock is outside safe biological limits and that current fisheries are not sustainable (ICES, 2006).
The European Commission has initiated an Eel Recovery Plan (Council Regulation No 1100/2007) to try to return the European eel stock to more sustainable levels of adult abundance and glass eel recruitment. Each Member State is required to establish national Eel Management Plans (EMPs). These plans aim to achieve an escapement of silver eel to the spawning population that equals or exceeds a target set at 40 per cent of the potential biomass that would be produced under conditions with no anthropogenic disturbance due to fishing, water quality or barriers to migration. Each Member State is required to:
- Set management targets based on an assessment of potential silver eel production under conditions of no anthropogenic mortality and high (pre-1980) levels of recruitment.
- Estimate the present day silver eel production in relation to this target (i.e. estimate compliance with the management target).
- Develop and take the management actions that are necessary to achieve or maintain compliance.
- Collect data sufficient to support steps 1 to 3 above, and to demonstrate whether compliance will be achieved in the future, i.e. that the actions identified in the EMP will lead to the recovery of the eel population.
Across England and Wales, the EMPs will be set at the River Basin District (RBD) level, as defined under the Water Framework Directive.
The aim of each EMP is to describe the nature of the eel population and fishery in the RBD, to assess whether the stock is meeting its 40 per cent escapement target, and to present management actions that will ensure the long-term viability of the eel population.
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