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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Economic development in times of population decline - a century of European eel fishing on the Swedish west coast

Magnusson, Katarina; Dekker, Willem


The European eel stock is in a multi-decadal decline. When fishing yield diminished throughout Europe, the small-scaled fyke-net fishery for eel on the west coast of Sweden gradually increased. This contrary trend lasted from the early-1900s, until the 1990s when fishing restrictions eventually limited the catch. We identified the processes driving this aberrant historical development. Using data on the fisheries from 1914 to 2006, we analysed the relation of total landed quantities to stock abundance indices, weather conditions, technical development, and market indicators. No relation between landed volumes and abundance indices was found, but market price (inflation-adjusted) was clearly correlated. Weather and technical development had a minor influence on landed volumes. This indicates that the commercial eel fishery on the west coast developed due to increasing demand and increasing eel prices. We found no evidence that the local stock has been fully exploited, though the increasing catch must have gradually reduced the contribution to the international spawning stock. These results stress the importance of considering economic processes when interpreting historical catch data as a source of information on population size in stock assessments, and ultimately, understanding the collapse of the eel stock.


Anguilla; economic development; European eel; fishery; stock decline

Published in

ICES Journal of Marine Science
2021, Volume: 78, number: 1, pages: 185-198