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