July 16, 2009

Netherlands Imposes Partial Ban On Eel Fishing

Eel fishing will be banned in the Netherlands for several months a year in a move to help protect the fish from extinction, the Dutch government said on Thursday.

The measure would go into effect this year with a two-month ban beginning October 1.  From 2010 and beyond, a three-month prohibition would be in effect beginning in September. 

The government said it will review the approach in 2012 to assess its overall effectiveness in protecting the eels, a delicacy in the Netherlands.

Some one thousand tons of eel are caught in the Netherlands every year.

"I realize this is a very big sacrifice for eel fishers, but ultimately it is also in the interests of the industry that eel numbers are allowed to recover," said the Dutch Agriculture and Environment Minister, Gerda Verburg, in a statement.

The new measure, which must be approved by the European Commission, follows Brussels' previous rejection of an earlier Dutch plan to boost the eel population by having fishermen release 157 tons of mature eels caught closer to their spawning waters in the Atlantic.

Each year, the eels make a tough journey to the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic to spawn. Their offspring then travel to Europe to feed in inland waters.

"The (initial) plan would have offered guarantees for the recovery of the eel population," said the professional fishers' federation Combinatie van Beroepsvissers in a statement.

The group called the ban "incomprehensible, unreasonable and unacceptable."

The government has made available about $1 million (700,000 euros) to help an estimated 240 small fishing businesses affected by the new measure.

"This amounts to a mere 1,000 euros per business per month," federation spokesman Han Walder told the AFP news agency.

In June 2007, the eel was placed under the protection of the CITES convention as a species threatened by extinction.  The fish was also given a classification indicating that trade should be firmly regulated.

Image Caption: Grading eels by size, Japan © F Muto/TRAFFIC