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

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Erratum: Page 262 of this article erroneously refers to Louis Riffardeau Baron de Riviére (1817-1890) as the inventor of eel restocking. This conflates the names of two people living in the same place and period: Baron Louis de Riviére (1789-1871) and Duke Louis Riffardeau de Riviére (1817-1890). While the Baron was the inventor of eel restocking, the Duke was not involved. The article thus incorrectly speculates about the initial transports from St. Gilles in the Camargue (where the Baron was mayor) to lakes around Vernais in Cher (owned by the Duke). Apart from that speculation on page 262 (only), the content of the article is not further affected by this error.



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

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2016

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  • Environment and History is an interdisciplinary journal which aims to bring scholars in the humanities and biological sciences closer together, with the deliberate intention of constructing long and well-founded perspectives on present day environmental problems.

    Environment and History has a Journal Impact Factor (2021) of 0.925. 5 Year Impact Factor: 0.902.
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