Swimming 6,000 km for sex
Once an eel reaches maturity, it swims to the Sargasso Sea. This is no trifling journey as the eels swim for eighteen months - without eating! The Sargasso Sea is not exactly right around the corner, it lies north of Cuba in the infamous Bermuda triangle. This is where the eels have sex or what passes for sex among eels: the females lay eggs in very deep water and the males fertilize those eggs. Not long after that, baby eels appear. This reproductive process has never been witnessed so we do not know exactly how it works.
The long way home
The baby eels set out on their journey almost immediately. Along the way, the larvae grow into glass eels, an apt name because they are transparent. It is pretty impressive how they find their way to the European inland waters, which takes them about two or three years! In these fresh waters, the eels reach maturity – at which point they again depart for the Sargasso Sea.
The 'street value' of baby eels (glass eels) is higher than that of cocaine, as it is considered an Asian delicacy. One kilogram of glass eel can eventually grow into 3,000 adult eels. This is a very attractive prospect for poachers and smugglers. Each year, millions of glass eel are smuggled in suitcases into Asia. This illegal poaching and smuggling is serious business: in 2019, 5.7 tonnes of glass eel was intercepted by police and customs officials (according to Europol figures).
Dams and locks
Say you are an eel who has finally reached the European coast – only to find your way blocked by locks, dams and pumping stations. If only eels had wings! These migration barriers pose one of the biggest threats to eels. Numerous locks and dams are therefore equipped with 'fish passages’. These are intended to migrating fish, including eels, make their way past the barriers. However, many eels get damaged and die when moving through fish passages, as they are not designed for every type of fish. Someting built for salmon might not work for eel. The fish passes also need to accomodate for the fact that glass eel are smaller than the adult eel which have to pass back through the fish passages.
Many dead eels wash up on the banks of our rivers each year. Because their bodies appear broken, they are known as ‘broken eels'. The eels’ wounds may have been inflicted by the blades of pumping stations, ship propellers or by hydropower plants. RAVON and the Dutch anglers' association, Sportvisserij Nederland, are currently researching this phenomenon.
The EU Eel Regulation states that all EU member states have to implement measures to ensure recovery of the stock. The countries had to define plans which outlined the actions needed to be taken within national borders. For example, reducing fishing activities, reducing migration barriers, and improving control and enforcement. Now, more than ten years later, the situation is still critical, as inforcement of these measures is lacking.
Are eels too ugly to save? The European eel has the status 'critically endangered' on the red list of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This means that their status is more serious than that of the panda, koala or even the Siberian tiger. Plenty of people and organizations are worried about those animals. So why the lack of concern for eels? Because you cannot cuddle an eel? Time to take action before eels become extinct! Become an eel supporter, sign our petition! Power to the eels!
Become an eel supporter!
Together we can make a stand. Support the eel and sign the petition so that our voice can be heard in Brussels.