Fisheries Management Update: American Eel


The American eel (Anguilla rostrata), is a catadromous species of fish, which means it lives in freshwater and then migrates to marine waters to spawn. These eels emigrate from riverine environments during their mature “silver eel” stage. They eventually make their way to the Sargasso Sea (which is a body of water found between Bermuda and the Bahamas in the western Atlantic) where they meet and spawn. The eggs and larvae from these spawning events drift north with the Gulf Stream surface currents. Once their leptocephalus larvae reach the continental shelf, they metamorphose into small translucent eels called “glass eels”. These glass eels are pushed into our estuaries with the flood tides where they actively swim and seek out freshwater outflows. When they reach the rivers of the Great South Bay they eventually grow into their “yellow eel” stage. As yellow eels, they can stay at the mouth of the rivers or swim upstream to find more suitable habitat. This is where the eels will stay until they grow and mature into silver eels. If allowed to do so, they will begin their spawning migrations once again.

The American eel is a significant forage fish species in our waters. Forage fish play an import role in the food web in that they are efficient in transferring energy from low trophic levels (plankton) to higher trophic levels (bigger fish). If you happen to know a recreational fisherman, they can confirm that big fish such as striped bass love to consume the lowly eel. American eel are also an important food source for freshwater bass, bluefish, weakfish, and fluke. All of which are important fisheries in the Great South Bay and its associated tributaries.


Unfortunately, the American eel has been facing some difficulties lately.

A recent species profile from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission stated that:

“The 2012 benchmark stock assessment and peer review have concluded that the American eel population is depleted in U.S. waters. The stock is at or near historically low levels due to a combination of historical overfishing, habitat loss, food web alterations, predation, turbine mortality, environmental changes, toxins and contaminants, and disease. Although fisheries are a fraction of what they were historically, eel support valuable commercial, recreational, and subsistence fisheries”

Another problem facing the American eel is the fact that glass eel fisheries currently exist in the states of Maine and South Carolina. The glass eel fishery is a classic example of “growth overfishing”; by harvesting these juvenile eels from the system, less eels reach maturity so that they can spawn and produce further generations of eels.

If that wasn’t bad enough, poachers have decided to take advantage of the high market value that these immature eels sell for. One pound of glass eels has been known to fetch $2,500 on the open market. The eels are kept alive and shipped overseas to Asia where they are used for cuisine purposes. Recently three men were arrested in Maine for harvesting 24,000 juvenile eels from a local creek and are now facing criminal charges.
It is illegal to harvest glass eels in NY State, where the minimum size limit is 6”.
If you see poaching of glass eels,
please report it to an Environmental Conservation Officer by calling 1-800-TIPPDEC.

Fortunately, there is some good news.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission- the managing body that establishes fishing regulations in east coast state waters- is currently seeking public input on their American eel fisheries management plan.

The current options for management are as follows:

Commercial Glass Eel Fisheries:
Option 1 –Status Quo
Option 2 –Closure of Glass Eel fisheries
Option 3 –Glass Eel Quota
Option 4 –Reporting Requirements
Option 5 –Pigmented Eel Tolerance

Commercial Yellow Eel Fisheries
Option1 –Status Quo
Option 2 –Increase Minimum Size Limit
Option 3 –Gear Restrictions
Option 4 –Coastwide Quota
Option 5 –Reporting Requirements
Option 6 –Two Week Fall Closure

Commercial Silver Eel Fisheries Measures
Option 1 –Status Quo
Option 2 –Seasonal Closure

Recreational Fisheries Measures
Option 1 –Status Quo
Option 2 –Reduce Bag Limit (25 fish/day bag limit)
Option 3 –Party/Charter Boat Exemption

Notice that two of the management options presented above will stop the harvest of juvenile eel’s coast wide (Option 2 of the Glass Eel Fishery), and will enact seasonal closures of the harvest of mature silver eels during their migration periods (Option 2 of the Silver Eel Fishery).

The specifics of each management option can be found at
by following the “Public Input” link to –
Addendum III to the American Eel Fishery Management Plan.

I encourage you to take a minute and submit your comments on the management of this important local species to the ASMFC.

To do so, email:

Kate Taylor
[email protected]
(Subject line: American Eel)



Kate Taylor
Senior FMP Coordinator
1050 North Highland Street
Suite 200A-N
Arlington, Virginia 22201

The public is encouraged to submit comments regarding this document at any time during the public comment period. Regardless of how they were sent, comments will be accepted until 11:59 P.M. (EST) on May 2, 2013. Comments received after that time will not be included in the official record. The American Eel Management Board will use public comment on this Draft Addendum to develop the final management options in Addendum III to the American Eel Fishery Management Plan.

Thank You

-Chris Scott

The comments above are my own and do not represent any agencies or universities