News Releases

FWC conservation measures in place for unique American eels

News Release

Friday, March 27, 2015

Media contact: Bob Wattendorf 850-488-0520

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), in support of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, has new conservation measures for American eels.

Staff from the FWC proposed the changes at the September 2014 Commission meeting, which the commissioners subsequently approved for implementation.

“This amendment brings Florida into compliance with the interstate Fisheries Management Plan and ensures the future of Florida’s eel fishery,” said Jim Estes, deputy director of the FWC’s Division of Marine Fisheries Management and the FWC representative to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

A 9-inch minimum size limit for American eels harvested in Florida (commercially or recreationally) and a recreational bag limit of 25 eels per angler per day is now in effect. A wholesale/retail purchase exemption is provided for recreational anglers purchasing American eels for bait. Anglers must retain proof of purchase to claim the exemption. American eel permit application and reporting forms have been updated.

These measures will help conserve this unique species of fish. Eels spend most of their lives in fresh water, but must return to the Sargasso Sea to spawn. The eggs hatch into a leaf-shaped larval form that floats with the currents until they come near shore, when they morph into nearly transparent glass eels. Then as they swim farther upriver, they develop a brownish coloration and grow into what biologists refer to as pencil eels, due to their size. As maturation continues, they enter the more typically encountered yellow-eel phase, which is when they are most commonly harvested for food or use as bait. After 8 to 24 years, the mature eels return to the Sargasso Sea to spawn, changing yet again into blind silver eels. After spawning, silver eels die, never returning to fresh water.

Harvest of eels peaked around 1980, with commercial fishermen harvesting well over 3.5 million pounds along the Atlantic seaboard. In recent years, harvest declined to less than 1 million pounds but was valued at nearly $2 million.

This complex life history and the harvest pressure from commercial and recreational anglers who use eels as bait, necessitated creation of the “Interstate Fishery Management Plan for American Eel” in the mid-1990s. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has repeatedly amended the plan to keep pace with population and harvest trends, as well as new research. Florida’s new eel rules will help ensure compliance and the future of this valuable and novel fishery.

For more information on the American eel, go to and select “Species Profiles” and then “Freshwater Fish.” For the updated commercial permit and reporting forms go to and choose “Freshwater” then “Commercial Fish, Eels & Frogs.”

FWC Facts:
The coastal waters off Florida and Georgia are the only known calving area for North Atlantic right whales.

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