The European eel (Anguilla anguilla) has been in decline throughout Europe for over 30 years, and is currently regarded as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. All European eels belong to a single population. Those living in Scottish freshwaters arrived here from the common oceanic spawning ground in the Sargasso Sea, and may have been the progeny of eels that grew to maturity in any part of the continental range. Accordingly the appropriate level for co-ordination of stock management is at the continental rather than national scale. In response to concerns about the eel, Council Regulation (EC) No 1100/2007 establishing measures for the recovery of the stock of the European eel was passed in September 2009, requiring European Union member states to put in place an Eel Management Plan for their river basin districts (RBD) designed to reduce eel mortality as a result of human activities.
As defined under the Water Framework Directive, Scotland has one complete River Basin District (Scotland RBD) and one, the Solway-Tweed RBD, shared with England. Marine Scotland Science’s predecessors developed an Eel Management Plan for Scotland RBD, while the Solway-Tweed RBD plan was prepared by the Environment Agency. These plans were prepared as part of a UK-wide submission in 2008, and were ratified by the European Commission in 2009.
Scotland's Eel Management Plan will help achieve the objective of the European Regulation to protect and ensure the sustainable exploitation of the European eel. As part of the management plan arrangements, new measures to limit the exploitation of the eel stock in Scotland have been introduced. Scottish Government, after public consultation, introduced a freshwater fish conservation regulation to prohibit fishing by any method for eels without a licence from Scottish Ministers.
The Regulation also requires that member states provide reports to the European Commission on the progress of their management plans every three years. The 2015 report for the UK is now available, as is the 2012 report.