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.