October 6, 2005

EU plans fishing bans to protect threatened eels

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU fishermen may have to stop catching
eels for six months each year to prevent the species
disappearing from European waters after a drastic stock decline
over the past 20 years, the EU executive said on Thursday.

In June, for the first time, scientists called for a
Europe-wide ban on fishing for eels, a species at serious risk
of extinction in Europe. Eel numbers have sunk to the lowest
since 1980 and could take two decades to rise again, they said.

Now, the European Commission wants to stop eel fishing from
the 1st to 15th of every month until each country has a plan to
ensure that 40 percent of adult eels can escape from rivers to
the sea for spawning. All plans should be in place by July

Eels are found in virtually every coastal and inland water
around Europe and along the Mediterranean coasts of Africa and
Asia, providing income for more than 25,000 fishermen.

No one knows exactly where eels spawn, but the smallest
larvae are found in the Sargasso Sea, south of Bermuda. They
then drift northeastwards with the Gulf Stream toward Europe.

When they arrive, the leaf-like larvae transform into
transparent juveniles called glass eels which wait for river
estuaries to warm before swimming into inland waters. It is
while they are waiting that they become a target for fishermen.

Recent figures show the number of new glass eels entering
rivers stands at just 1 percent of historic levels.