Eels need an international moratorium

eel / Credit: the ecologist

The European eel (Anguilla anguilla) is a well-known fish, but it is perhaps less well known that there are 18 other species within the genus Anguilla.

Eels, fascinating creatures of the aquatic world, embark on remarkable migrations that weave them through a complex tapestry of habitats. They begin their journey in the vast expanse of the sea, where they hatch and take their first tentative swims. From there, they venture into freshwater systems, navigating rivers, streams, and lakes, where they spend years maturing and growing. This transition from saltwater to freshwater and back again is a critical part of their lifecycle, spanning up to two decades before they reach maturity.

Upon attaining maturity, eels undergo another remarkable transformation, returning to the sea to fulfill their biological imperative: breeding. It’s a journey fraught with challenges, yet they press on, driven by instincts as ancient as the oceans themselves. Remarkably, once they’ve completed their reproductive duties, eels meet their end, having fulfilled their purpose in the grand scheme of nature’s cycles.

Yet, these migrations, while awe-inspiring, have also shrouded eels in mystery. Across cultures and civilisations, they’ve sparked fascination and intrigue, inspiring myths and legends. But even amidst this mystique, eels haven’t been immune to human consumption.

Indeed, throughout history, wherever eels have been found, they’ve been eaten. From the dawn of civilisation to modern times, evidence of eel consumption abounds. Paleolithic sites scattered across Europe reveal traces of ancient meals featuring these elusive creatures. Accounts from centuries past, such as Philip II’s ‘Relaciones’, offer glimpses into the culinary preferences of bygone eras, highlighting the enduring appeal of eels.

Even during pivotal moments in history, such as the first American Thanksgiving, eels played a role, providing sustenance and nourishment to weary travellers. It’s a testament to their ubiquity and versatility in the culinary world, transcending borders and epochs.

Today, eels continue to captivate palates around the globe, finding their way into an array of dishes spanning continents and cultures. From the smoky delicacies of Europe to the tantalising flavours of Korean Jangeo-gui and Valencia’s aromatic all-i-pebre, eels have secured their place on menus worldwide.

Towards an eel moratorium

However, alongside their culinary allure looms a sobering reality: the industrialisation and globalisation of eel exploitation have precipitated their decline. Just as the whaling moratorium sought to address the rampant hunting of large cetaceans, there arises a pressing need for an eel moratorium—a coordinated international effort to safeguard eel populations for future generations.

This moratorium, akin to its whaling counterpart, would entail a comprehensive cessation of fishing activities for a substantial period, coupled with a ban on the sale of eel products in any form. Such decisive action is imperative, particularly for eel species inhabiting temperate zones, including European, Japanese, and American eels, which face imminent threats to their survival.

The challenges are immense, but history has shown that collective action can yield profound results. Just as the whaling moratorium stands as a testament to human cooperation and conservation efforts, so too can an eel moratorium pave the way for a sustainable future—one where these enigmatic creatures continue to thrive in the watery realms they call home.

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Written by

Marina Lorente

A Spanish woman who has returned to her motherland after 6 years living in London. She is passionate about nature, animals and yoga.