European ministers will meet in Brussels this month to draw up emergency plans for stemming the decline of the North Atlantic eel, whose population has fallen by 99 per cent in the past 20 years.
Their numbers are "dangerously close to collapse", said the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, which researches North Atlantic marine life. American and Japanese eels face a similar fate. Scientists cannot explain the decline, but the effect of global warming on eels' breeding could be a factor.
Miran Aprahamian, a fisheries scientist with the Environment Agency, said: "The problem is we don't know what the main reason [for the decline] is. There has not been enough research in the area. There are several contributing factors, one being an increase in the Asian market over the past 20 years. Another is the increase in dams, preventing [the eels'] effective migration. The global warming theory is also a possibility."