Eel fisheries from local to global: drivers of exploitation and prospects for sustainability

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Kristen Steele

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Start Year

2015 (Cohort 2)

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PhD Project
PhD Title

Eel fisheries from local to global: drivers of exploitation and prospects for sustainability

Research Theme

Biodiversity and Ecology

Primary Supervisor
Primary Institution


Secondary Supervisor
Secondary Institution



Freshwater eels (family Anguillidae) are at the centre of a complex interaction between socioeconomic forces and conservation efforts. Many species, including the Japanese, European, American and some tropical eels are highly valued for consumption, primarily in East Asia. Prices for the juveniles of certain species have recently reached more than 1,000 GPB per kg, incentivising intensive fishing effort. However, many of these same species have experienced steep declines in stocks and recruitment, with the American and Japanese eels considered ‘endangered’ and the European eel ‘critically endangered’. Conservation and management measures have been put in place in many countries, including habitat improvement, export bans, catch quotas and restricted fishing seasons. The overall effect of these efforts on stocks is still unknown. Meanwhile, environmental influences, including climate change, are also thought to play a part in the declines. This particular confluence of socioeconomic and environmental factors and trade-offs is not unique to eels and shares similarities with many exploited species, both of other fish and wildlife. As such, eels provide a demonstration subject for examining the ecological, economic and social dynamics influencing the protection of threatened species. This study will collect data on eel fishing and trade through quantitative analysis of global records as well as anthropological case studies in two eel fishing countries. These data will form the basis for the creation of a social-ecological systems framework to examine how global market dynamics influence human livelihoods, conservation efforts and the status of exploited eel species. The aim is to deepen understanding of the socioeconomic drivers of eel fishing to inform more effective management interventions in the future.

Policy Impact
Background Reading

Dr Matthew Gollock (ZSL Conservation Programmes) website:

  • Kristen Steele, Sally Chadwick, Alison Debney, Matthew Gollock (2018) Variation between European eel Anguilla anguilla (L.) stocks in five marshes of the Thames Estuary (United Kingdom) Wetlands Ecology & Management DOI:
  • Kristen Steele (2018) Connecting socioeconomics and conservation in the face of Brexit: summary of key findings in the Lough Neagh eel fishery
  • Kenzo Kaifu, Florian Stein, Willem Dekker, Nick Walker, C. Andrew Dolloff, Kristen Steele, A. Alonso Aiguerre, Vincent Nijman, Penthai Siriwat and Pierre Sasal (2019) Global exploitation of freshwater eels (genus Anguilla): fisheries, stock status and illegal trade
  • Kristen Steele (2020) Social, economic and conservation dynamics in the UK glass eel fishery pre-Brexit: a summary of key findings from doctoral research on social-ecological systems of eel fishing and trade
  • David Righton, Adam Piper, Kim Aarestrup, Elsa Amilhat, Claude Belpaire, John Casselman, Martin Castonguay, Estibaliz Díaz, Hendrik Dörner, Elisabeth Faliex, Eric Feunteun, Nobuto Fukuda, Reinhold Hanel, Celine Hanzen, Don Jellyman, Kenzo Kaifu, Kieran McCarthy, Michael J. Miller, Thomas Pratt, Pierre Sasal, Robert Schabetsberger, Hiromi Shiraishi, Gaël Simon, Niklas Sjöberg, Kristen Steele, Katsumi Tsukamoto, Alan Walker, Håkan Westerberg, Kazuki Yokouchi, Matthew Gollock (2021) Important questions to progress science and sustainable management of anguillid eels Fish and Fisheries DOI: 10.1111/faf.12549
Conferences and Workshops
  • Boundry Spanning: Advances in Socio-Environmental Systems Research (June 2018). Poster: Eel fishing and the Brexit blues.:
  • Student Conference on Conservation Science (SCCS)-New York (October 2017). Speed Talk: Fishing the critically endangered eel: management for sustainability in the UK.
  • Frontiers in Natural Environment Research, London NERC DTP student conference (August 2017). Talk: The UK eel fishery: management for sustainability in the face of Brexit.
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