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Research article2019Peer reviewedOpen access

The history of commercial fisheries for European eel commenced only a century ago

Dekker ,Willem


The stock of the European eel is in decline throughout its distribution area-for decades, if not for centuries. Its population dynamics are not well understood. The extremely scattered occurrence, as well as the general lack of quantified information before 1950, prevents a straightforward analysis. This article discusses the history of eel fisheries across Europe, reviewing the literature published before 1940. A follow-up study is advocated, to unearth primary information in archives across Europe. In the late 1800s, development programmes were initiated in central Europe, complementing the widespread subsistence fisheries with "modern" commercial exploitation of new areas, new markets and new products. In the early 1900s, increasing fisheries and trade were reported throughout northern Europe, and new developments started in the south. This lasted until about 1950-when the current multidecadal decline set in. The eel fisheries have never experienced a period of stable, sustainable exploitation. The decline in the stock is probably not a simple case of overfishing, but a continent-wide serial depletion of local resources-eventually depleting the whole stock-in times of growing non-fisheries impacts. Consequences for the European eel protection programme and for the derivation of restoration targets are discussed.


Anguilla; eel; eel smoking; fisheries; history; serial depletion

Published in

Fisheries Management and Ecology
2019, Volume: 26, number: 1, pages: 6-19

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG14 Life below water

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Fish and Aquacultural Science

    Publication identifier


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