Select Committee on European Scrutiny Sixteenth Report

1 Conservation of the European eel



COM(05) 472

Draft Council Regulation establishing measures for the recovery of the stock of European eel

Legal baseArticle 37 EC; consultation; QMV
DepartmentEnvironment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of considerationSecond SEM of 27 March 2007
Previous Committee ReportHC 34-ix (2005-06), para 2 (9 November 2005) and HC 34-xxv (2005-06), para 1 (19 April 2006)
To be discussed in CouncilApril 2007
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionFor debate in European Standing Committee


1.1 Eels are a catadromous species, in that they live in fresh water but return to the sea to reproduce. The European eel is exploited in most European countries, and is important, not only as a natural asset, but as an economic resource. However, because of growing conservation concerns, the Commission produced in October 2003 a Communication[1] setting out an Action Plan for the management of the stock.

1.2 Following consultations with Member States and the industry, it subsequently proposed in October 2005 this draft Council Regulation, under which Member States would set up local catchment Eel Management Plans, aimed at ensuring the escape of 40% of the level of adult eels which would, in the absence of human activity, otherwise migrate to the sea. Until such plans are in place, the Commission also proposed a seasonal closure of eel fishing from the first to the fifteenth of every month, though it suggested that exemptions could be permitted where fishing for glass (juvenile) eels is used for restocking purposes (with access to the sea for the purpose of increased escape), or where existing management methods already allow for the 40% escape target to be met on a river basin level.

1.3 As we noted in our Report of 9 November 2005, the Government recognises the "parlous" state of the stock, and that, without some concerted action, the eel sector could soon be in serious financial difficulty. The UK therefore supports the objectives of the proposal. However, the Government also pointed out that, although the UK does not exploit eels to the same extent as many other Member States, they have a local importance in some areas,[2] where the impact of the proposal could be significant. Since the industry had been asked for its estimate of what that impact would be, we decided that it would be sensible to await this before taking a final view on the proposal.

1.4 In the event, the Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Ben Bradshaw) sent us on 31 March 2006 a supplementary Explanatory Memorandum, which said that the industry had not been able to provide any detailed information (though it had been estimated that the proposal as drafted could cause economic difficulties, not least because the pattern of exploitation would make it difficult to compensate at other times for a closure of the fishery during the first half of the month). Consequently, the Government would be seeking in discussion in Brussels to replace the provision for a 15 day closure by other means of reducing fishing effort by the required amount, and to ensure that Eel Management Plans can be adopted as quickly as possible, thereby also helping to minimise the impact of any such closure.

1.5 In view of this, we said in our Report of 19 April 2006 that we thought it would be right to continue to hold the document under scrutiny, pending further information on whether it proved possible to achieve that aim.

Second Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 27 March 2007

1.6 We have now received from the Minister a second Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 27 March 2007, indicating that the Presidency and the Commission have prepared a revised text, which they are hoping could be adopted at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council next month. He says that, whilst Member States would still have to establish management plans aimed at achieving a 40% escapement of silver eel, the requirement to introduce a 50% closure would come into force only if a Member State failed to submit an appropriate management plan in time, or if the plan submitted was less than adequate.

1.7 In addition, there would be three substantive changes to the proposal. First, it is proposed that, where fisheries for glass eels (less than 12 cm in length) are permitted in Community waters, a high percentage of the catch[3] should be sold for re-stocking, in order to increase eventually the production of silver eels (and subsequently silver eel escapement). Also, Member States would be able to fund re-stocking programmes from the European Fisheries Fund, if they so wish. Secondly, the Commission has introduced a provision to ensure that commensurate efforts are made to reduce the mortality of eels at sea. Thirdly, it has broadened the proposal to allow Member States to take action against other detrimental anthropogenic influences. (The Commission has also said that it is prepared to consider as a separate measure possible controls over trade in eels, and in particular glass eels, with third countries.)

1.8 The Minister says that the removal of the need for any mandatory short-term measures pending the establishment of management plans would significantly reduce the impact of the proposal on the industry, and that the freedom which Member States would have to set up appropriate plans for their own conditions would enable the UK to mitigate the effect of the proposal in areas such as Lough Neagh. He also points out that, although a 50% cut in effort would still be required if Eel Management Plans are not submitted (or approved), considerable progress has been made in developing such Plans within the UK, and that most (including those for Lough Neagh and the Severn estuary) are near completion. The Minister also suggests that the intention to address other anthropogenic influences is welcome, in that it will encourage Member States to tackle barriers to migration, water quality issues and mortality from turbines, although other measures suggested by the Commission, such as tackling predators, could conflict with other Community legislation, such as the Birds Directive.

1.9 The Minister's main concerns relate to the re-stocking provision, which he recognises is intended to ensure that there is a sufficient supply of glass eel for those river basins where eels are absent or the escapement target cannot be met simply by reducing mortality. However, he points out that the provision will have a significant impact on the glass eel sector, in that the price obtained by the majority of the catch will be set by the re-stocking market, and he suggests that, insofar as the resultant price is significantly lowered, some operators may consider that the exercise is no longer worthwhile (or that the scale should be reduced). On the other hand, the Minister also points out that, if there were no such provision, the price would be set by the external market, and would consequently be so high as to preclude re-stocking on any significant scale, making it impossible in most cases to meet the 40% escapement target. He adds that, until management plans have been drawn up and approved, it is not possible to assess the likely demand for glass eel for re-stocking programmes, nor to determine with any confidence how prices might be set. It therefore remains to be seen whether supply and demand can be balanced at a price which is viable for the fishermen, but not so high as to frustrate re-stocking programmes in the longer term, but he also suggests that, whatever percentage is set, it is likely that the figure will need to be revised in the light of experience.


1.10 Whilst it would appear that some of the original concerns over this proposal are likely to be met by the removal of the need for mandatory measures pending the adoption of eel management plans, a 50% cut in effort would still be required if such plans are not submitted on time, or are judged to be inadequate. Moreover, it is clear that major uncertainties exist over the possible impact on the industry of the new re-stocking requirement.

1.11 We have therefore considered carefully how this document should be dealt with. On the one hand, we are conscious that the economic contribution of the eel fishery in national terms is small. Nevertheless, its impact in certain areas is significant, and, although those who would be directly affected by what is now proposed would presumably benefit in the longer term if the measures in question result in the recovery of the stock, it seems to us that they could face very real difficulties in the short term. On balance, therefore, we think it right that the House should have the opportunity to question the Government further on the full implications of the proposal, and, for that reason, we are recommending it for debate in European Standing Committee.

1   (24928) 13219/03: see HC 63-xxxvii (2002-03), para 11 (12 November 2003). Back

2   Principally in Northern Ireland, but also in the Severn estuary. Back

3   The current draft suggests 75%. Back

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