The project

The project is inspired by the territorial and environmental context and by the management and research experience developed in this field by the partners. It contributes to the implementation, improvement and optimization of Regulation (EC) No. 1100/2007 and the National Plan of the management of the species, offering new operational tools, which can also be replicated outside the project area, with potential positive repercussions also for the aquaculture and fisheries sectors. A large part of the project is dedicated to its replication throughout the European area, both with concrete conservation and awareness-raising actions carried out in Greece, thanks to the participation of the Greek Partner DEMETER, and with transfer activities of the skills and knowledge gained.

The Project

The project is inspired by the territorial and environmental context and by the management and research experience developed in this field by the partners. It contributes to the implementation, improvement and optimization of Regulation (EC) No. 1100/2007 and the PGN, offering new operational tools, which can also be replicated outside the project area, with potential positive repercussions also for the aquaculture and fisheries sectors. A large part of the project is dedicated to its replication throughout the European area, both with concrete conservation and awareness-raising actions carried out in Greece, thanks to the participation of the Greek Partner DEMETER, and with transfer activities of the skills and knowledge gained.

Strategies

The project will involve the Italian competent bodies (AdBPo and Regions) that have signed the “Memorandum of Understanding for a sustainable and unified management of fisheries and the protection of fish stocks in the Po River”, reaching the most remote parts of the vocational river basin, including the Canton Ticino, and promoting and developing a common and shared governance. In Greece LIFEEL will export its approach to the conservation of eel through concrete interventions on the territory and the transfer of the skills necessary to ensure its sustainability.

For the purposes of the operational objectives set out above, LIFEEL will implement the following strategies:

Species-specific defragmentation interventions

The Project will concretely improve the permeability of the eel inland waters, firstly through species-specific defragmentation interventions both in Italy (in the Ticino basin, in the Po Delta and in the Panaro River) and Greece (in the Nesto River); then it will put in place the potential related to the territory and the skills gained during the project, to define a plan for the recovery of longitudinal connectivity of the inland waters, to guarantee the freest possible migration of the eel in both directions.

Ensuring the return of the wild breeders to the breeding areas

The project will ensure the return of the wild breeders to the breeding areas through the development and application of fish friendly techniques for evaluating the process of sexual maturation and by releasing the most valid breeders caught in the Valli del Po.

Experimentation to complete the biological cycle in breeding environment

The support for the survival of juveniles in the wild will be pursued through research and experimentation to complete the biological cycle in breeding environment. The studies started 5 years ago at the University Research Center of Cesenatico and they were successful in the first step of artificial reproduction. Within this project, the second step of the research will be carried out by a pilot sub-project for weaning larvae in a controlled natural environment, in order to provide aquaculture with a viable alternative to recruit the juveniles in wild.

Awareness-raising, involvement and training

According to the target and in order to counteract the dangers arising from the lack of knowledge on the European eel, different and stratified experiments will be carried out as information, awareness-raising, involvement, training products and events.

The actions of the Project

Like all projects financed by the LIFE instrument of the European Community, LIFEEL is structured according to a precise scheme of actions which include: a package of preparatory and preparatory actions for the actual conservation actions, indicated by the letter “A”; a package of conservation actions “C”, which includes all the concrete interventions put in place by the project for the conservation – in this case – of the target species Anguilla; a set of “D” actions to monitor the effectiveness of the conservation actions carried out by the project, for the verification of the actual results achieved; an “E” action group of dissemination, education and involvement of the various target groups and stakeholders identified by the project; an “F” group of actions to manage and coordinate all work and partnership. The actions of the LIFEEL Project:

Start of the Project

With this initial action, each project partner takes the first strategic steps for the consolidation of the partnership, the definition of the working groups, the formation of the overall coordination and management team of the entire project, composed of representatives of all the partners: the so-called “STEERING COMMITTEE”. With this action are also identified and implemented the first of procedures for entrusting the external tasks foreseen and necessary from the first year, such as that related to the Project Manager.

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Protocol for the selection of the best breeders

In the first year of the project, with this action a protocol is developed for the recognition and selection of the best breeders – the best “Silver eels” – to be released into the wild. This protocol is not only applied within the framework of the project (Action C1) with restocking, but is also promoted and encouraged its application by valley growers and breeders, in order to effectively increase the reproductive potential of the natural eel population.
The protocol is based on biometric parameters that are easy to measure and evaluate, to facilitate their application in the field as much as possible.
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Designing eels passages

This action is preparatory to Action C3 of construction  the passages.
Specific structures are designed for the Eel, in particular for its youth stages, to allow it to overcome artificial barriers otherwise insurable in their journey of ascent of waterways to reach the areas of growth.
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Analysis and guidelines to favor the downstream migration to the sea in the Po basin

This action addresses one of the threats that most affect the entire natural stock of eel, not only the population of the Po basin: the spread of hydroelectric power plants on the river grid. Mature eels, potential breeding animals that have embarked on their journey of descent of waterways into the sea, can come across turbines and the latter, if not properly designed, can turn out to be real deadly traps for eels. With this action will be carried out the first systematic reconnaissance of all the hydroelectric power plants present on the grid of main interest for the eel, in the plain basin of the River Po, coming to define the best mitigation solutions and therefore the GUIDELINES FOR THE COMPATIBILITY OF HYDROELECTRIC STRUCTURES WITH THE DOWNHILL MIGRATION OF SILVER EELS (sub-action A4.1). An experimental eel deterrence system will also be designed with sub-action A4.2: a device capable of deterring the eel from taking the water supply channel to the hydroelectric power plant.
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Plan of priority measures to restore river connectivity for eel

With this action, or rather with sub-action A5.1, the first “Plan to restore the continuity and connection of the main river network at basin scale, both in Italy in the lowland sector of the Po basin, and in Greece, in the Basin of the River Nestos, will be drawn up.
With action A5.2, the GUIDELINES for the compatibility of hydroelectric works with the descent of Silver eels will instead be developed.
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Release of selected silver eels into the wild

Throughout the project, using the selection protocol developed with action A2, Silver eels will be released annually, selected as “most promising” breeding, precisely to increase the reproductive potential of the natural population of eel. This action will be carried out in Italy and Greece. The technical and scientific coordination for the activities in Italy will be carried out by the University of Ferrara with the participation of the University of Bologna, the parks of the Po Veneto delta and Emiliano. In Greece, the action will be led by the Fisheries Research Institute – ELGO DIMITRA and in both countries the involvement of valliculture and fishermen will be crucial.

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Development of a captive breeding program for eels larvae and release into the wild

The primary objective of this action is to contrast a practice that is still widespread throughout the range of the species of collection into the wild of large quantities of eels at youth stages for human consumption or breeding, however also aimed at consumption.
With this action a completely original method is developed and applied, to study by the University of Bologna for some years, which allows the reproduction in captivity of sexually mature subjects and therefore the first growth of larvae, until the moment of liberation into nature, which takes place at sea.
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Realization of eels passages for upstream migration of young eels

The passages to allow free up-stream migration, specific to young eels, designed with the A3 action will be carried out in Italy at three different sites of the Po Delta and on the Panaro River and and in Greece, along the River Nesto At the Toxotes Dam. Two ramps that will be built on the Panaro River will be built not only for young eels, but for all fish fauna, thus restoring river connectivity in the stretch of plain and hill.

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Implementation of a deterrence system for downstream migration of eels

With this action the experimental deterrence system designed during Action A4 will be realized and installed at the Creva dam (Province of Varese) on the Tresa River. The deterrence system will be calibrated and its effectiveness in deterring eel from taking the route to the turbines of the hydropower plant will be assessed.
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Monitoring the effectiveness of selected silver eels releases

The purpose of this Action is to verify, on the one hand, the validity of the protocol for the selection of the best eel breeding animals developed with Action A2; on the other hand, the effectiveness of silver eels restocking in increasing the wild stock will be assessed.
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Monitoring the effectiveness of the passages built in Action C3 and monitoring of the deterrence system

This Action monitors the ex-ante phase and  the ex-post phase the migration of eel specimens to environments where they will spend the accretion phase in the inland waters. The monitoring will verify the effectiveness of the eel passages built with the Action C3 and the effectiveness of the deterrence system installed at the Creva Dam. The latter will be useful for the implementation of the guidelines developed in Action A5.
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Monitoring of the results of the breeding programme for juvenile stages of eel

Action D3 monitors and evaluates the success of the experimental protocol of production in captivity of the eel developed and implemented with Action C2.

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Monitoring of the overall impact of the project

Fundamental action to evaluate the overall success of the Project and to calibrate the progress of the individual actions. It will be carried out throughout the project and will involve all partners.

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Information and awareness raising activities

Project communication action, in this action will be implemented various initiatives and products aimed at informing and raising awareness among the population and the different categories of stakeholders about the urgency of taking action for the conservation of the eel and the activities of the project itself.

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Technical dissemination and networking

Information, technical and scientific exchange and cooperation with other research groups dealing with similar activities in other parts of the European Union

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Project management and After LIFE activities

Management and general coordination of the project ensured through a defined management structure that involves the whole partnership and is favored by the presence of a single Project Manager. In addition, the After LIFE plan will be drawn up and implemented when the project is completed, in order to give continuity to the eel conservation measures undertaken during the Project.

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The actions of the Project

Like all projects financed by the LIFE instrument of the European Community, LIFEEL is structured according to a precise scheme of actions which include: a package of preparatory and preparatory actions for the actual conservation actions, indicated by the letter “A”; a package of conservation actions “C”, which includes all the concrete interventions put in place by the project for the conservation – in this case – of the target species Anguilla; a set of “D” actions to monitor the effectiveness of the conservation actions carried out by the project, for the verification of the actual results achieved; an “E” action group of dissemination, education and involvement of the various target groups and stakeholders identified by the project; an “F” group of actions to manage and coordinate all work and partnership. The actions of the LIFEEL Project:

Start of the Project

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Protocol for the selection of the best breeders

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Designing eels passages

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Analysis and guidelines to favor the downstream migration to the sea in the Po basin

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Plan of priority measures to restore river connectivity for eel

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Release of selected silver eels into the wild

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Development of a captive breeding program for eels larvae and release into the wild

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Realization of eels passages

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Implementation of a deterrence system for downstream migration of eels

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Monitoring the effectiveness of selected silver eels releases

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Monitoring the effectiveness of the passages built in Action C3 and monitoring of the deterrence system

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Monitoring of the results of the breeding programme for juvenile stages of eel

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Monitoring of the overall impact of the project

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Information and awareness raising activities

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Technical dissemination and networking

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Project management and After LIFE activities

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Project area

LIFEEL will take place in two well-defined geographical areas: in Italy it will cover the area of the Po River basin (with particular reference to the plain and hilly area) and the Po Delta. Concrete interventions directed on the environment and the species will take place on the Rivers Tresa, Ticino, Panaro, Po, and in the areas of the Po Delta and the Comacchio Valleys. Here the project will involve three administrative regions – Lombardia, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna – and also the Swiss portion of the Po basin, extended in the Canton Ticino, also being able to count on the financial support of the Cantone for the entire project. The second area involved is located in Greece: here the project will focus on the territory of the National Park of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, including the Nesto River basin and a lagoon system that represents more than 24% of the lagoons present in Greece. Concrete conservation actions will concern the Nesto River and the lagoons.

Italy

Greece