indeed slippery creatures, as many a freshwater fishermen
has found when trying to remove one from a hook. While eels
seldom, if ever, take an artificial lure, they are quick to
accept most natural baits. The American eel, Anguilla rostrata,
has a big range, from Greenland south to Venezuela. But in
spite of being common fish, they are a mystery, too.
no one had ever seen an eel with eggs, yet eels appeared everywhere
in freshwater, even in lakes which were previously dry and
cut off from rivers or streams. This gave rise to all sorts
of myths about where eels came from. Not until the 20th century
did scientists learn that eels begin their lives, and presumably
spawn, in the Sargasso Sea, an area of clear, seaweed-filled
water in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean.
this vast, two million square mile area, eels start their
lives as long, flat leave-like larvae called leptocephali.
They drift in the circular currents of the Sargasso Sea for
about a year before changing into 2-to 3-inch long “glass
eels.” At this stage, they move toward land and begin
to travel up freshwater streams and rivers, gradually darkening
and changing color into yellow eels. Eels may travel hundreds
or even over a thousand miles up rivers, and to everyone’s
mystery, appear in landlocked lakes and ponds.
spend five to 25 years in the yellow eel stage, feeding, growing
and storing fat. One of the mysteries of eel biology is that
in the yellow eel stage some areas of the U.S. have mostly
male eels and other areas mostly female eels. In general,
males seem to be found nearer river mouths, bays and estuaries,
and females further upstream in inland, totally freshwater
areas. The current theory is that eels can change sexes, becoming
males in crowded areas where competition for food is strong
and females in areas of low population and low food competition.
At a certain
size, depending on location, the eels quit feeding and change
again into “silver eels” and begin their long
migration downstream and back to the Sargasso Sea to spawn
and start the cycle again. On average, female eels are more
than 16 inches long before they begin the spawning migration
and males are under 16 inches. By looking for eel eggs and
newly hatched larvae, scientists have identified the approximate
area where eels must spawn, although no one has ever been
able to capture an adult eel there.
commercial fishery for American eels exists on the Atlantic
Coast, especially in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.
Most of these eels are exported live to Europe and Asia. Yellow,
and especially silver stage eels, are high-fat and make a
wonderful smoked product. In spite of several attempt to start
a commercial eel fishery in Louisiana, none has yet succeeded.