The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Anguillid Eel Specialist Group works 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 and migrations over huge distances.
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 Species, while several others are classed as Data Deficient. Populations of freshwater eels have been declining for the past 40 years or so, and the exact cause of this decline is unknown.
Formed in 2012, the IUCN Anguillid Specialist Group has worked with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) to prioritise the conservation of Anguilled eels. The group focuses on improving knowledge of freshwater eels and pushing for stronger global protection of these species. It hosted the first ever workshop to carry out IUCN Red List Assessments of freshwater eels in 2013. 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. The group also engages directly in key countries for freshwater eels, such as Japan, where it works to improve communication between different eel stakeholders and catalyse long-term commitments to conservation of the Japanese eel.