2020 Report of the EIFAAC/ICES/GFCM Working Group on Eels (WGEEL)

Elsa Amilhat, Jânis Bajinskis, Laurent Beaulaton, Claude Belpaire, Priit Bernotas, Clarisse Boulenger, Uwe Brämick, Cédric Briand, Andreas Bryhn, Mads Christoffersen, Eleonora Ciccotti, Willem Dekker, Estibaliz Diaz, Isabel Domingos, Hilaire Drouineau, Caroline Durif, Derek Evans, Marko Freese, Jason Godfrey, Matthew GollockTessa van der Hammen, Reinhold Hanel, Katarzyna Janiak, Chiara Leone, Linas Lozys, Lasse Marohn, Iñigo Martinez, Tomasz Nermer, Ciara O’Leary, Sukran Yalçin Özdilek, Michael Ingemann Pedersen, Jan-Dag Pohlmann, Russell Poole, Robert Rosell, Argyris Sapoundis, Kerry Sims, Josefin Sundin, Rimantè Stundye, Arvydas Svagzdys, Ayesha Taylor, Eva Thorstad, Rüdolfs Tutins, Sami Vesala, Alan Walker, Fatima Wariaghli, Håkan Wickström, Klaus Wysujack

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The Joint EIFAAC/ICES/GFCM Working group on eels (WGEEL) met by correspondence and video conference from September 21–28 in 2020 to assess the state of the European eel, investigate the effects of habitat loss on the eel stock and its management, review and update the Stock Annex, prepare the 2021 Data Call and report on any updates to the scientific basis of the advice, new and emerging threats or opportunities. Furthermore, data on fisheries landings, aquaculture and restocking are presented.

Analyses were carried out on two glass eel recruitment indices (comprising 28 time-series in the Elsewhere Europe area and 24 time-series in the North Sea) and one yellow recruitment index (comprising 16 time-series). Note, that some data from the current year are always provisional to allow for a small proportion of late reporting series, but this is not considered to materially affect the trends. The potential impacts of COVID-19 on the data collection and quality were noted by the WG and described in detail in the report.

The recruitment of European eel strongly declined from 1980 to 2011. The glass eel recruitment compared to that in 1960–1979 in the “North Sea” index area was 0.5% in 2020 (provisional) and 1.4% in 2019 (final). In the “Elsewhere Europe” index series it was 6.5% in 2020 (provisional) and 5.6% in 2019 (final), based on available dataseries. For the yellow eel dataseries, recruitment for 2019 was 17% (final) of the 1960–1979 level; the 2020 data collection for yellow eel is ongoing. Statistical analyses of the time-series from 1980 to 2020 show that recruitment has stopped decreasing in 2011 but the trend thereafter is rather unclear.

A Bayesian assessment model (GEREM), structured to allow the existence of potential different trends among regions, and provide absolute recruitment per zone has been run. While still preliminary, this model confirms the trend in recruitment, points out the need of new time-series of recruitment, and could in the future allow a part of the analytical assessment of the stock.

The collection of yellow and silver eel series and their biometric data, started last year, has continued and a first analysis has been run. There is a large spatial variability in trends of abundance among locations but the analysis of the long-term time-series shows that current silver eel abundance is low when compared to the pre-1980 levels. The analysis of biometric data allows a first analysis of the biological characteristics of the series and points out missing fields in data collection.

Emerging threats and opportunities that have been reported over the past decade were reviewed, and diseases, parasites, contaminants and hydropower were identified as routinely reported and thus established. Climate change was repeatedly reported in the past; yet knowledge remains limited. Moreover, the threat of the EU exit of the UK raised concerns regarding the accessability of glass eels for stocking and the potentially increased availability of glass eel from the UK being traded illegally to Asia The issue of COVID-19 was addressed and impacts were found to fall largely in three categories: i) scientific monitorings, ii) restocking programmes and iii) closures/delays in commercial fishing and loss of markets.

The WG has a new standing annual activity to examine quantification of the impacts of nonfishery factors and in 2020 i) reviewed the literature on the effects of habitat loss with a focus on the biological processes operating, ii) the national Eel Management Plans and (latest) triannual assessments identifying whether and to what extent the effects of habitat loss have been taken into account, iii) develop a workplan aiming at the quantification of habitat loss and its effect on eel production in the coming years, and iv) present a number of actual case studies. Due to the lack of appropriate data, a meaningful quantitative assessment is not possible at the moment.

Overall, the working group has made progress towards the assessment of the standing stock and spawning–stock biomass (i.e. yellow and silver eel time-series) and the implementation of an additional model for the recruitment data provides towards further analyses (e.g. with respect to regional differences). The WG identified relevant issues for future research, highlighting the limited knowledge on the complex effects of climate change as well as the need for additional and specific data collection to quantify the effects of habitat loss.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages223
Publication statusPublished - 2020
SeriesICES Scientific Report

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