Keywords |
  • Zoology

European eel

According to the French national red list, the European eel is a threatened species in France.

Unlike most migratory amphihaline fish found in continental France, theEuropean eel reproduces in the sea and colonises continental fresh water where it grows.

In the past it was abundant in nearly all the watercourses of the European plains. However, stocks of this species have been plummeting since the 1980s. Due to the excessive exploitation of the species at all stages of its development, it is likely that its decline will continue over the coming years. The range of the European eel extends from the Iberian peninsula to the Black Sea and from Iceland to Morocco. It reproduces in the Sargasso Sea, in the North Atlantic Ocean, at an estimated depth of at least 400 metres.

French national red list category: Critically endangered (CR)

There are many causes behind the major decline of this species. The European eel is over-fished in most of the large drainage basins. This is aggravated by the poaching of its fry (called " elvers") which are considered a high-priced delicacy. Furthermore, it faces many obstacles on its migration towards watercourses (dams, silt plugs…) and is sometimes trapped in turbines.

The species is also exposed to many pollutants and pesticides which significantly weaken its immune defences and make its swim bladder vulnerable to infestation by the parasitic worm Anguillicola crassus which arrived when other fish used in aquaculture were imported. This parasite and this pollution can interfere with the adult's capacity to procreate, and compromise its return to the places where it lays its eggs.

Legal protection of the European eel

Assessed as " critically endangered " globally and in France, in 2008 the European eel was classified in Annex II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES, 1973). In the past it was considered a pest in category 1 watercourses until 1984 when it benefited from a management plan in all the countries of the European Union aimed at reducing all of the causes of its mortality.


A European eel. © Denis Poracchia A European eel. © Denis Poracchia

European eel - 1 Photo



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