IUCN Anguillid Eels Specialist Group

Image: Anna Barnett, Flickr (CC-BY-2.0)

Synchronicity Earth has supported the IUCN Anguillid Eel Specialist Group and the Zoological Society London (ZSL)  since 2013 in their work to better understand and protect freshwater eels across the world.

There are 16 known species of Anguillidae (freshwater eels) and three subspecies, and they are found all over the world in over 150 different countries. Freshwater eels have complex and little understood life-cycles, involving changes in physical morphology, migrations over huge distances, and the ability to live in completely different habitats. This combined with the fact that they are a drastically understudied group makes freshwater eels very difficult to protect.

At least three species of freshwater eels are classed as Endangered (the Japanese eel and the American eel) or Critically Endangered (the European eel) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Specis, while several others are classed as Data Deficient. Populations of freshwater eels have been declining for the past 40 years or so, and due to the lack of understanding about their ecology and threats, the exact cause of this decline is unknown. Of the known threats, though, exploitation for consumption is believed to be a large one, with fishing taking place both for direct consumption and to stock aquaculture farms.

Formed in 2012, the IUCN Anguillid Specialist Group has worked with ZSL to prioritise the conservation of Anguilled eels. Its original focus was on addressing the serious lack of information on freshwater eels, and a workshop (the first of its kind) was held in 2013 to carry out IUCN Red List Assessments for 13 eel species. This was a vital first step in bringing conservation attention to the most threatened eel species, and was instrumental in the European eel being listed on Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species, as well as on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), meaning that trade in the species is closely controlled. More recently, the group has been engaging directly in Japan to improve communication between different eel stakeholders and catalyse long-term commitments to conservation of the Japanese eel.

At A Glance