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Environment and History

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Environment and History

Faire mieux que la nature? The History of Eel Restocking in Europe

Willem Dekker and Laurent Beaulaton

Environment and History 22 (2016): 255-300. doi: 10.3197/096734016X145743293144

Young eel, recruiting from the ocean towards Europe, are most abundant along the Atlantic coast of France. Since 1840, attempts have been made to redistribute them from the areas of highest abundance to other countries and farther inland. This ‘restocking’ has been troubled by technical constraints (e.g. mode of transport and maximum distance eel can be shipped alive), wars (e.g. the Franco–Prussian War and World Wars One and Two) and, in recent decades, by shortage of supply due to the general decline of the eel stock all across Europe. Though objectives and procedures have changed considerably over the years, the recurring aim has been to increase production and, in that way, to ‘faire mieux que la nature’. We document the historical development of these efforts from their inception, and contrast the achievements to the objectives. Except for the 1952–1990 period in Eastern Europe, restocking has probably added only slightly to the natural production. As successful as restocking might have been locally, it has not markedly changed the overall trends and distribution patterns or halted the general decline of the stock and fishery. Poor post-evaluation, frequent technical innovation and a constant renewal of the countries and people involved have kept the promise of a better future alive for 175 years.

KEYWORDS: Eel, Anguilla, glass eel, bootlace, restocking, stocking, fishery, technical development, natural resources, international cooperation, development and protection, enhancement and recovery


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