Part of the sea fishing season for eel is temporarily suspended

Décision de justice
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Following appeals from two environmental organisations, the Conseil d’Etat’s urgent applications judge has temporarily suspended the sea fishing season for yellow eels, and glass eels in certain areas, as the dates do not comply with European law. The fishing season for silver eels is not affected. The suspension takes account of both the urgency of eel conservation and the impact of a suspension on fishing businesses. It will not come into effect for glass eel fishing until 26 May. While awaiting the Conseil d’Etat’s final decision on the merits of the case, this suspension does not prevent the Government from drawing up a new schedule that complies with European law, to allow fishing activities to continue.

Eel fishing is governed by the European Council Regulation of 30 January 2023, that set out the fishing opportunities for 2023 and 2024. It requires Member States to prohibit eel fishing for a minimum of six consecutive or non-consecutive months, leaving some discretion, depending on the areas concerned (Mediterranean or Atlantic coast), for the choice of these periods. Certain closure periods are imposed and others must fall within specific dates.

The “Association française d’étude et de protection des poissons” [French association for the study and protection of fish] and the DMA [defence of aquatic environments] organisation asked the Conseil d’Etat to suspend the schedule setting out the opening and closing periods up to 2024 for eel fishing in maritime waters for the different eel development stages: glass eel, yellow eel and silver eel.

In a first ruling, the urgent applications judge noted that the schedule authorising glass eel fishing and yellow eel fishing in certain Eel Management Units (EMUs)* did not comply with the periods imposed or the date ranges set by the European regulation**.

Glass eel fishing for restocking to continue until 25 May

The judge also noted that the glass eel fishing quotas for consumption for the current season (1 November 2022 to 25 May 2023) have been exhausted. Glass eels can, therefore, no longer be fished for consumption. However, the fishing quota for restocking (transfer to favourable habitats) has not yet been reached.

Taking into account both the urgency required to protect the European eel (whose population has declined by 90% in 50 years) and the impact of an immediate suspension on commercial fisheries, the urgent applications judge considered that there was no urgency to suspend the fishing periods for restocking before 26 May. On the other hand, he considered that from that date, the urgent need to protect the species outweighed possible detriment to fishing companies. Consequently, it suspended the provisions authorising glass eel fishing in the applicable EMUs from 26 May. It should be noted, however, that the contested orders provided for a fishing closure after that date and a resumption of fishing in the autumn, so the suspension does not affect the activity in the immediate future.

Yellow eel fishing suspended immediately

Yellow eel fishing, unlike glass eel fishing, is not limited by quotas but only by closed fishing seasons. The urgency of conserving eels in the EMUs concerned by the failure to comply with the European regulation (all located in the Atlantic Ocean or the English Channel) justifies the immediate suspension of the execution of the order. The economic impact of the suspension will be limited, as the fisheries in the English Channel and on the Atlantic coast represent only 7.5% of the volume of yellow eel fishing.

In a second ruling, the urgent applications judge noted that the authorisation order had only been signed by the Secretary of State for the Sea, whereas the French Rural and Maritime Fishing Code stipulates that for yellow eel, it must also be signed by the minister responsible for freshwater fishing (currently the Minister for the Ecological Transition and Territorial Cohesion). It, therefore, suspended yellow eel fishing in the other EMUs***.
Finally, the urgent applications judge noted that, pending the Conseil d’Etat’s final decision on the two associations’ application to cancel the schedule, issuing a new provisional authorisation order that complied with the European regulation and was signed by the two ministers could allow the fishing activities concerned to continue or resume.



* Eel Management Units (EMUs) are areas defined in France's Eel Management Plan that correspond to the natural habitat of the eel in the river basins, estuaries and maritime areas where the species lives.
** Artois-Picardie, Seine-Normandie, Loire, Côtiers Vendéens et Sèvre Niortaise and Garonne-Dordogne-Charente-Gironde EMUs for glass eels and Artois-Picardie, Seine-Normandie, Bretagne, Garonne-Dordogne-Charente-Gironde and Adour-Cours d’Eau Côtiers EMUs for yellow eels.
*** Loire, Côtiers Vendéens et Sèvre Niortaise, Corse and Rhône-Méditerranée EMUs.



Decision Nos. 472401 and 472213 of 7 April 2023