American Eel Facts

  • Not much is known about the American eel’s spawning habits, but scientists have observed the smallest larval form in the Sargasso Sea, therefore it is believed this is their spawning grounds. 
  • It is also believed that American eel adults die after spawning, as no silver eel has ever been observed returning to freshwater.
  • American eel are one of few fish that are catadramous, which is opposite of anadromous fish, such as salmon. This means that they spawn in saltwater but live the majority of their life in freshwater. 
  • American eel can further be classified as facultative catadromous fishes as they sometimes travel back and forth from saltwater to freshwater environments throughout their lives.
  • Silver American eel are believed to stop feeding as they prepare for their journey to the Sargasso Sea; their fat reserves increase and are used as energy for the trip. 
  • Elvers are not believed to feed while they drift to the shores on North America. It is only once they reach the shores that they begin feeding. 
  • Typically, American eel longer than 450mm can be considered female, while males are smaller. 
  • Eels and elvers can hold onto rocks to “crawl” in areas out of water, such as the rocky ramps Coastal Action uses for the elver traps. 
  • American eels have gills, but you cannot see them by looking at the outside of the eel because they are hidden under a “gill operculum”. 
  • American eel and elvers can survive out of water for several hours as long as they are kept moist.
  • Eels have the ability to absorb oxygen through their skin, this is how they breathe while not in the water. 
  • American eel produce slime as a protective covering.
  • American eels have a protruding lower jaw, so it looks like they have an underbite. 
  • Mi’Kmaq peoples have many uses for American eel. These include using most of the eel for food which can be cooked different ways (smoked eel keeps well for travelling), using the eel’s dried skin as bandages, using the eels in religious ceremonies, and using parts of the eel for medicines. 
  • Eels can travel through underground waterways as well as over land in moist conditions. This is how they appear in ponds that don't have a stream leading to it. 
  • Elvers typically travel at high tides after dark without rainfall, whereas silver eel travel during rainfall events on dark nights. During these conditions, Coastal Action technicians generally have their highest catches. 
  • American eel are an important species in their ecosystem, as they are a good food source for birds and other fish. They are also not picky eaters. American eel are known as opportunistic feeders and prey on many things in the ecosystem including smaller fish, shrimps, snails, insects, amphibians, as well as dead animal matter.  
  • American eel scales are embedded in the skin, so they do not have flaky scales like other fish. 
 

 

 

 

eel-anguille-distribution-eng

This map (retrieved from Fisheries and Oceans Canada) shows the American eel’s migration routes from the spawning area in the Sargasso Sea to their freshwater homes on the eastern coast of North America.

 

 

AE- Elvers 4

American eel elvers being fished out of one of Coastal Action's elver traps.

 

For more information on the American eel visit these links:

“The American Eel…a Species at Risk” - Fisheries and Oceans Canada website

“American Eel (Anguilla rostrata)” - Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture website

“Species Profile: American Eel” - Species at Risk Public Registry