is no longer an MCZ Feature of Conservation Importance. Please
refer to the MCZ FOCI Review 2016
We all recognise the eel’s smooth,
snake-like shape, but these familiar fish lead amazing lives.
Eels are the only European fish to leave the coast to spawn in the
sea – the opposite to salmon, which travel upstream to spawn in
freshwater. European eels migrate to their spawning grounds in the
Sargasso Sea, off the coast of North America. Migration is
greatest on dark, moonless nights, and usually starts in flood
water following heavy rain.
Travelling eastwards on ocean currents, the
returning young change into transparent 'glass eels' as they reach
the shallow waters close to the continent, eventually arriving on
the Atlantic coast of Europe, after a journey that can take as long
as three years. They enter inshore waters as young
'elvers', where they live under rocks, in crevices, or in the mud
on the bed of estuaries, coastal lagoons, rivers, and lake
Elvers and adult eels are fished
commercially, and over-harvesting has contributed to the massive
decline in eel numbers, as have pollution, hydropower dams and
parasites. The quantity of juvenile eels returning to the
coast has been reduced to no more than 5% of the numbers recorded
in the 1970s. The number of adults is thought to have
declined by 80% in the past 60 years.
The eels do not begin to undertake spawning migrations until the
males are at least six years old, and the females even older.
Once in decline, their numbers take a long time to recover, as is
the case with other long-lived, slow growing animals.
Other common names
The distribution of the eel is widespread in Europe, being found
from Iceland and North Cape in the north, to the coasts of Morocco
in the south, and the Black Sea in the east.
- This is a UK BAP Priority Species (BAP
species are now Species of Principal Importance/Priority
- This is on the OSPAR list of threatened and/or declining
species and habitats.
- Species of principal importance for the purpose of conservation
of biodiversity under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities
- Listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red
JNCC - UK BAP Priority
Species and Habitats
OSPAR List of Threatened and/or Declining Species and
OSPAR Commission –
Background Document for European eel Anguilla
Food and Agriculture
Life Information Network
Marine Species Identification Portal
World Register of Marine Species