At the meeting of the European Union’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council, ministers decided to ban eel fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic Sea for three months during eel migration season. During the all-night negotiations, ministers also agreed on the European Union’s fishing opportunities in all EU waters and outside of it.
‘Similarly to October, the last meeting of the Estonian-led Agricultural and Fisheries Council was tense and lasted all night. The aim was to agree on fishing opportunities for approximately 200 fish stocks, a goal which we fulfilled by the morning’, said Siim Kiisler, Minister of the Environment, who chaired the meeting.
Estonia can still fish for Greenland halibut, golden redfish, Rajiformes, cod, and other species in the Northwest Atlantic. In addition, Estonia will be able to fish for cod, shrimp, and flatfish in the Barents Sea.
Another important issue discussed during the meeting was the ban on eel fisheries. The number of eels has decreased by about 99% in comparison with the 1960s–1970s; therefore, the European Commission proposed to ban eel fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, and the Baltic Sea, and tighten national eel management plans.
‘As a result of the negotiations, it was decided to ban eel fisheries in the sea for three consecutive months from 1 September to 31 January, i.e. during the eel migration period. It is up to each Member State to decide when to establish the fishery ban during this period,’ explained Kiisler.
There are several causes for the reduction in eel numbers: overfishing, scarcity of habitats, and dams on rivers, which prevent the migration of eel to their habitats. It is also believed that the migration of eel to Europe is affected by changes in the Gulf Stream. In addition, very little is known about the eel spawning grounds in the Sargasso Sea and the life cycle of juvenile eels.
The regeneration of the population is diminished by the fact that eels reaching the European coast as glass eels do not return to the spawning areas in the Sargasso Sea until after 6–8 years or even later. Therefore, scientists have recommended minimising any human activity affecting eel migration.
In Estonia, most of the eel are caught in Lake Võrtsjärv. In the period from 2011 to 2016, an average of 10.2–13.3 tons of eel was caught in Lake Võrtsjärv. Sea fishing has decreased several times: in 2004–2007, approximately 12 tons of fully-grown silver eels were caught in the Baltic Sea, but last year, the catch volume was 700 kilograms.