French eel fishermen stung by EU plan
PALAVAS-LES-FLOTS, France, March 7 (AFP) - Traditional eel-fishers on France's Mediterranean coast fear for their livelihood after the publication of an EU report that says urgent action is needed to stop the fish disappearing from European rivers.
In October the European Commission in Brussels called on member states to cut eel exploitation to “the lowest possible levels,” and to ban it completely in certain areas, because of evidence that stocks have fallen to “outside safe biological limits”.
Currently some 30,000 tonnes of eel are fished every year in the EU, this figure including the “glass” eels or elvers that are caught as they enter rivers from the sea, mature “yellow” eels that live upstream, as well as “silver” eel – the fully-grown fish that migrate downstream to spawn in the Atlantic at the end of their lives.
The elvers – or civelles in French – are seen as a delicacy in France and Spain and sell for around EUR 150 (USD 186) a kilo, while the “yellow” and “silver” eel get around EUR 4 the kilo when they are exported mainly for the large Dutch and German markets.
According to the EU report, over-fishing, loss of habitat and pollution mean that eel numbers are no longer being replenished – though because of the animal’s long and complicated breeding cycle it warns there will be a delay before the crisis finally hits.
In the salt-water inlets or “etangs” that extend for 80 kilometres (50 miles) along the Mediterranean coast near the city of Montpellier, around 500 men live as their forefathers did, using hooped nets to catch the returning “silver” eels as they prepare for their last trans-Atlantic journey.
Here they say they have noticed no drop in eel numbers, and they point the finger of blame at the large-scale “glass” eel fishing that takes place at the estuaries of the Loire and other Atlantic and North Sea rivers.
“Here in the Mediterranean we don’t take the elvers but the adult eel. So they can’t fling the book at the fishing that goes on here,” said Jean-Pierre Molle, 50, who heads the eel-fishers’ union at Palavas-Les-Flots.
“If they stop eel-fishing, that will be the end of my job! What kind of Europe is that? I depend on the eel for 90 percent of my income. If I can’t catch it I will be forced to go fishing at sea, but already there are too many of us out there. The market is saturated,” he said.
The fishermen sent a delegation to Brussels last week to plead what they call the “Mediterranean exception,” but they are unlikely to get a favourable response to their arguments.
The Commission’s report made clear that pending the implentation of a Europe-wide action plan, the priority is precisely the protection of adult “silver” eels whose re-migration across the Atlantic ocean to the Sargasso Sea is the most vulnerable part of the breeding cycle.
According to a recent Dutch study quoted in the report, “of female eel only one in 700 survives the downward migration to the sea … The same study indicates a mortality due to fishing on silver eels of 97 percent.”
As for the fact that stocks of “silver” eel have not noticeably diminished around Palavas-Les-Flots, that – says the Commission – means nothing.
“The long time-lag between recruitment (arrival in Europe) and spawning suggests that profitable fishing can continue when the stock is at an extremely depleted level. This means that the eel-stock is in an extremely high-risk situation,” the report said.
Subject: France news