Globefish Research Programme: Eel (Anguilla spp.): production and trade

The primary aim of this report is to provide operators in the sector with up-to-date and complete information on the trade of Anguilla anguilla – eel. With numbers decreasing drastically, Anguilla anguilla is now featured on the list of protected species in Annex II of the Washington Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). Eels have traditionally been caught, bred for trade and consumed live, fresh, chilled, frozen or smoked. They are part of the culinary traditions in countries located in quite distant geographical areas, ranging from the Japanese eel (Anguilla japonica) in countries of East Asia such as China and Korea to the European eel (Anguilla anguilla) in Europe. Countries in southern Europe, such as Italy and France, have made the eel market a segment of economic interest in the fisheries and aquaculture sector.

For this study, we examined statistical data from the last ten years, which represents a significant period for an economic evaluation of the sector and for assessing the availability and resilience of the various species, particularly the European eel. Only a few of the roughly 15 species and their subspecies are of relevance from an economic point of view. These include: the European eel and the Japanese eel, as well as the American eel (Anguilla rostrata), and the short-finned Eel (Anguilla australis australis). Of these, only the European eel is subject to protection programmes after being listed as a protected species under the Washington Convention, due to the drastic drop in the number of wild eels since 2009. Its vulnerability is due to its relatively long biological cycle (being a catadromous species), the effects of numerous pathologies, some of which are typical to the species, and numerous anthropic threats such as overfishing, pollution, modified natural habitat and poaching. Due to these threats, an eel management plan has been implemented through Council Regulation (EC) 338/1997, which implements CITES within the European Union (EU) and Council Regulation (EC) 1100/2007 which establishes the measures for wild European eel stock recovery.

For this study, we used United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Data Base (UNData) from the last ten years to examine imports and exports in the major countries involved. We report findings in USD in terms according to Commodity Codes, i.e. fresh or chilled eel, frozen eel and live eel. In addition, data from the FAO FishStat Plus system was used for the homogenous categories of live, fresh or chilled, frozen and smoked eel, in terms of value and in terms of quantity (tonnes). Data on production typologies was examined according to global production, aquaculture production and capture production, in order to evaluate the quantities in terms of tonnes. Data from Eurostat 2010 data (Traffic report on the Trade in Anguilla spp., (Crook, 2010) was used for the smoked eel category. The FAO Code of Practice for Fish and Fishery Products (first edition) provided definitions for the various commodity codes and production processes.

An analysis of the information and an assessment of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis) found a notable drop in the availability of wild fish for the market. The numerous anthropic threats seem to be the major cause of this drastic drop in the capture of wild eel, although often production data fails to consider elements such as over fishing and food fraud.

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