The European eel is listed as critically endangered in Annex II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). They used to be found across EU waters (including in the Baltic) but are now found mostly in the rivers of Atlantic EU countries and in the Mediterranean.

European eel. © Scandfish

The last 20 years have seen a dramatic decline in the number of eels reaching European rivers and have fallen to as little as 1% of their previous levels according to some estimates.

The critical situation of the European eel is due to various causes, including:

  • fishing in marine and freshwater
  • barriers to migration
  • pollution
  • parasites 
  • the damming of river systems for hydro-electric power
  • changes to the course of the Gulf Stream
  • poaching and illegal export to Asia

Measures to protect eels

In 2007, the EU adopted specific measures to bring about the recovery of the eel stock. As a result, eel fisheries are now managed under long-term plans drawn up by EU countries. Since 2018 temporary fishing closures apply at EU level. 

The EU's objectives are:

  • to find the right balance of conservation measures
  • to allow mature eels access to their marine spawning grounds
  • to allow juvenile eels to migrate upstream to their freshwater habitats
  • to restock eels in the rivers of Europe

National management plans

Regulation: establishing measures for the recovery of European eel