For use of the media
not an official document.
CITES gets to grips with a slippery problem
Geneva, 13 March 2009 – Today the 174 member countries
of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) will start regulating the
international trade in the European eel (Anguilla anguilla).
European eel is a snake-like fish, which is utilised as a highly
valued human delicacy in most European countries. It is widely
distributed in coastal areas and freshwater ecosystems in Europe
and the Mediterranean basin and breeds in the Sargasso Sea in
the Caribbean. This fish can reach in exceptional cases a length
of 1½ m. The eel larvae drift in the sea for one to three
years before reaching European and Mediterranean coasts. Young
eels are known as ‘glass eels’ or ‘elvers’.
After maturing in estuaries or freshwater habitats, they migrate
to the Sargasso Sea where they die after breeding. It has not
proved possible to breed eels in captivity.
Older eels are caught for their meat, but glass eels are mostly
harvested live to be grown to marketable size in aquaculture facilities
in Europe and mainly Asia. About half of the eels caught in Europe
are exported to China, Japan and the Republic of Korea for this
purpose and in recent years this has amounted to over 200 million
eels per year.
Unofficial estimates suggest that, in the 1990s, around 30,000
tons of eels were captured every year, with a first-sale value
of around EUR 200 million and that, in Europe alone, more than
20,000 people obtained a substantial income from eel fisheries.
Since then catches have fallen to around 5,000 to 10,000 tons
but prices have risen substantially, creating a strong incentive
to continue fishing despite the reduced numbers of eels available.
“Eels are no longer the familiar sight in European and
Caribbean waters that they once were”, noted Willem Wijnstekers,
Secretary-General of CITES. “Many people derive a substantial
living from fishing them, while others are involved in the aquaculture
which grows the fish to marketable size. All this is under threat
unless fishing for European eels is put on a more sustainable
footing”, he added. “CITES cannot afford to fail the
Overfishing in combination with habitat loss, pollution, the
damming of rivers and climate change affecting ocean currents,
have all contributed to the sharp decline in eels populations.
The stock of juvenile eels is estimated to have declined by 95-99
% since 1980. However, eels have a naturally high survival rate,
so that wild populations might recover if less young eels were
The new CITES measures coming into effect today will help to
re-establish a sustainable fishery for the European eel. In future,
all exports will have to be accompanied by an export permit, which
can only be issued after scientists in the exporting countries
have confirmed that levels of trade are not be detrimental to
the survival of the species and that the European eel is maintained,
throughout its range, at a population level consistent with its
role in the ecosystem.
Exporting countries will need to re-evaluate their eel fishery
management in order to meet these requirements. Importing countries
will play their part by ensuring that all imported eels are accompanied
by the required CITES export permits.
Note to journalists
A background document
can be viewed here.
For more information, please contact Juan-Carlos Vasquez, CITES
media officer, at +41-22-917-8156 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
read previous press releases, go to Archives.