The eel - The race to point zero

23 February, 2023

Don’t catch any eels at all” say the scientists, if you want to have any eels left in the future. But according to Sofia Brockmark at the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (HaV), very few people fish for eel in Sweden and they don’t catch very many.  

“It’s heading towards zero,” she points out. 

Therefore, eel fishing continues to be allowed in Sweden. 

Basically, I have just three questions to ask to HaV, as the government agency that makes decisions on eel fishing: 

  • Why aren’t we following the advice of the scientists at the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and imposing a total ban on eel fishing?
  • How much of the stock are we in fact catching? 
  • And whose fault will it be if the eels run out?

I haven’t received a proper answer to any of these questions.

HaV say that we fish so little that the amount is negligible.

So, we’re choosing not to follow the scientists’ advice because we fish so little anyway? I wonder if that argument would work if I went round picking protected wildflowers claiming that I picked so few that it didn’t really matter? And how little is “little”? 

Sofia Brockmark says the decision is based on calculations by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU).

I phone up SLU but their estimates are so uncertain that they are unwilling to provide either actual numbers or rough calculations.  And nor is HaV either. 

But if we don’t know how big the eel population is, it’s difficult to calculate what proportion of eels we are catching from that population. The logic ought to be simple. 

“We fish much less than we used to and on that basis, we judge that fishing has a very minimal effect on eel stocks.”

Last year 135,000 kilos of eel were caught legally and about the same amount illegally. That is slightly lower than the previous year. In other words, we are catching fewer eels in terms of numbers, but we still don’t know whether this is a larger or smaller proportion of the remaining stocks because we don’t know how big the eel population is.

And ICES continues to advise zero catches. 

“We have a rate of decline,” says Sofia Brockmark, “eel fishing is heading towards zero.”

Towards zero! That’s HaV’s logic? It isn’t zero at the moment but we’re heading towards zero so it’s OK to carry on fishing?

So, whose fault will it be if the eels run out? Well, says Sofia Brockmark, it’s clear that management affects the eel population but there are lots of other things that also affect how many eel we have. Like hydroelectric power stations, environmental pollution and local predators like seals and cormorants. 


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