For 30 years or more there has been growing concern amongst stakeholders in relation to the decline in recruitment and/or populations of a number of species within the family Anguillidae. There are various causal factors that have been linked to the declines in eels that include:
• Changing oceanic currents/climate change
• Development (industrial, urban and agri-forest)
• Exploitation of all life stages
• Habitat loss, including water abstraction and barriers to migration
• Mortality caused by pumps and hydropower turbines
Due to their complex, catadromous life cycle (feeding and growing in a range of salinities, and breeding in the ocean) it is generally believed that these pressures will be having synergistic and/or cumulative effects. Regardless, it is generally agreed that the rate of decline in recruitment, and emerging decline in freshwater populations is of huge concern.
Beyond the growing awareness that a number of eel species are exhibiting a decline in recruitment and/or populations, there is a greater concern in relation to our dearth of knowledge of the biology of many species. These knowledge gaps and the lack of long-term datasets are ultimately hampering conservation and management efforts. Further, the catadromous nature of eels means that management and conservation can be extremely difficult – the vast majority of efforts having been focussed in the freshwater environment.
As such, the aim of the ASSG is to serve as an expert body for anguillid species, within which the following key objectives are a focus:
• to identify gaps in knowledge and stimulate, and promote scientific research on anguillid species
• to advocate conservation of anguillid species through monitoring and threat mitigation
• to act as a forum for communication and knowledge transfer between stakeholders working on the range of eel species
• to carry out advocacy work with governments, research institutions, conservation organisations and communities to develop and implement effective conservation measures
Over the past 12 months the group has been focused on prioritising the IUCN Red List assessments of all species to ensure that future initiatives were appropriately focused as far as species and the threats they face are concerned. The workshop was hosted by the Zoological Society of London from 1st – 5th July 2013. The aim was to assess 13 of the 16 anguillid species under the IUCN Red List criteria – three species were excluded due to being assessed in parallel as part of a regional assessment in New Zealand. Prior to the workshop only four anguillid species had been globally assessed previously, and it was widely agreed that there was a need for a full assessment of these fishes. The workshop was considered to be a huge success by the 14 experts that attended from eight countries and these assessments have now (June 2014) been published online by the IUCN.
Matthew has worked at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), UK since 2008 and is the International Marine and Freshwater Conservation Assistant Programme Manager. He oversees the running and development of a number of ZSL’s conservation projects; including the tidal Thames conservation project, a community-based freshwater fisheries management project in Nepal, the establishment of the Chagos/BIOT Marine Protected Area and the subsequent development of a monitoring programme in the region and open-ocean generally, the EDGE Sharks project, and the development of a sustainable seafood policy for ZSL.
Matthew has been working in the field of fish biology and conservation for over 12 years. He gained his doctorate studying the effects of the invasive parasite Anguillicola crassus on European eels, and continues to work at the forefront of the conservation of anguillid species. He has experience of remote tagging techniques of marine creatures, and is interested in how they can be used to understand how their behaviour and physiology is affected by changes in environmental variables.