The historic abundance of eels in Europe has decreased by more than 90 percent and different measures are implemented to protect the endangered fish with no clear solution in sight. Lake Võrtsjärve fishermen will likely have to find a new source of income in the next decade.
Eel fishing could be subject to a complete ban in Europe soon, daily Sakala (link in Estonian) reported on Wednesday. The European Commission has discussed a ban on eel fishing in 2017, but the Ministry of the Environment's fish stock department head Herki Tuus said it has not come up again.
"It is not on the table in that sense, but we have not seen all of the commission's proposals for the next year yet. There is nothing more concrete tabled for the discussion on Baltic Sea quotas," Tuus said.
Last year, 1.5 tons of eel were caught from the sea in Estonia and 35 tons were caught in Lake Võrtsjärv. "We buy eel larvae from France. There just is no larvae left here, we are forced to acquire it from existing eel farms," said Jaanika Kaljuvee, the CEO of local fishing organization MTÜ Võrtsjärve Kalanduspiirkond.
Since the eel cannot make its own way to Lake Võrtsjärv, the EU has supported bringing the fish into the country. That will no longer be continued. Ministry of Rural Affairs fishery department manager Ain Soome said bringing eels to Lake Võrtsjärv will not help restore the species.
"Eel fishing at Lake Võrtsjärv will continue on the stock that has been placed there. As a result of populating in earlier years, there is some 7-12 years of stock there. If there is no fishing ban imposed on the EU level, it is reasonable to continue fishing," Soome noted.
Fishermen could acquire larvae with state aid, but Soome said another source of income should be found in the next decade as a fishing ban is still likely to be imposed in some form. Jaanika Kaljuvee said fishermen have no other option.
"We have also heard that the ministry intends to bring in a reduction to fishing capacities in the next funding period to buy out fishermen, so to speak. Younger men will have to begin learning a new profession and older men will have to retire. Fisherman life will slowly fade," Kaljuvee said.
Since eel distribution ranges all over the world and there are many reasons for the decline in numbers, scientists have not yet found a consensus on if banning fishing is necessary.
The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea will give its recommendation in a month or a few, it will likely be followed by discussions on how to move forward. It is too early to say what will be done to the fishing in Europe," fishing scientist Priit Bernotas said.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste