Slip slidin’ away

October 14, 2009

Prized as a nutritious delicacy, eels are fascinating animals. They are grilled over charcoal in asia, boiled in stews across Europe and smoked and eaten on toast or bread in the Netherlands.  They have never been observed spawning in the wild, so scientists haven’t yet been able to breed them. So the only way to fish for eels is to find them wild in shallow waters or tributaries, or capture baby eels (called glass eels because they are transparent) and transport them to aquaculture farms.

Yet, there’s a growing fear that eels may disappear altogether. The number of eels in Europe, which spawn in the North Atlantic’s Sargasso Sea and migrate to shores in Europe and the Mediterranean, has dropped by over 95 percent in recent decades. Scientists haven’t agreed on the cause, but in an effort to stem the precipitous population decline, the European Union has started to impose fishing restrictions. This has gained the support of wildlife preservations groups, but angered fishermen.

Anguilla anguilla, the European eel, has been listed as ‘critically endangered’ (by the IUCN:

The species suffers from many threats including overfishing, dams, introduced parasites and pollution. … However, as the species reproduces only once on average at around 20 years, and the extremely depleted state of the population, restoration is expected to take several of the eel generations.

Until there’s a way to breed eels in capitivity, there may be little choice but to eat less eel (prices have already skyrocketed) as their numbers decline.

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