American Eel FAQ

Do you have questions about American eel? Read the American eel FAQ for answers.

Is the American eel an endangered species?

The American eel is not federally listed as an endangered or threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973. In December 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service announced their intention to consider extending ESA protection to the American eel based on available biological data. The two agencies conducted a status review for the species, which included collecting and reviewing data from various state and federal natural resource agencies, tribes, and other applicable groups. Based on this information, they found that the species' overall population is not in danger of extinction. As a result, ESA protection is not warranted.

Where are American eels found?

American eels are found over a large latitudinal gradient in the western Atlantic Ocean, and associated rivers and estuaries, from Greenland to the northern reaches of South America. In Florida, they can be found throughout most of the state in both fresh and brackish waters and in Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico drainages.

Are they a freshwater or saltwater fish?

American eels are considered to be catadromous, which means they live in freshwater and go to the sea to spawn. They spawn in the Sargasso Sea but spend most of their lives in estuarine or riverine systems where they grow and mature. Because they spend most of their lives in fresh or brackish waters, they are generally considered a freshwater species.

How old are the eels when they migrate into freshwater?

No one has seen an American eel actively spawning, but it is assumed that this occurs in the Sargasso Sea around January of each year. Thus, young eels (known as glass eels due to their lack of pigment) generally begin their migration into fresh water when they are between 9 and 12 months old.

What do American eels eat?

American eels are opportunistic feeders, meaning they will eat any food available to them. They are considered carnivorous, with a diet including fish, frogs, insects and dead organisms.

When do eels migrate into freshwater in Florida?

Little work has been done to document the inland migration of this species. Based on data obtained from Guana River Dam (St. Johns County), the peak migration period occurs in January and February, but this likely varies for different areas along the coast.

Are American eels good to eat?

Although not very popular in the United States, these eels are considered a gourmet food in European and Asian countries. Almost all eels that are commercially harvested in Florida are sold live to local and out-of-state fish markets for human consumption.

Have they been studied in Florida?

There have not been many studies conducted on this species in Florida. The few studies on American eels in Florida's inland systems have primarily focused on artesian spring populations such as those found at Vortex Blue Springs (Holmes County) and Peacock Springs (Suwannee County).

Is there a commercial fishery for American eels in Florida?

There is a small commercial fishery for American eels in Florida, which operates almost exclusively in the St. Johns River system. Annual landings of American eels have been reported since the early 1980s, and commercial eel harvest has been declining since the early 1990s.

Where is most of the commercial eel harvest in the U.S.?

Reported landings of American eels in the United States have historically been concentrated in the central Atlantic states, from New Jersey to North Carolina (80%), with only about 1% of landings reported for southern states.

Do you need a permit to commercially harvest American eels in Florida?

All commercial harvesters are required to have a valid freshwater commercial fishing license and obtain a no-cost permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). For details, visit the FWC American Eel permit page.

FWC Facts:
Bay scallops are bivalve molluscs occurring from New England through Texas. In Fla., they can be harvested in Gulf state waters from Hernando Co. to Mexico Beach Canal in Bay Co.

Learn More at AskFWC