The Eel. ( Anguilla Anguilla )

The European Eel in fresh water is unmistakeable. It has a highly distinctive, elongated, snake-like body, brown in colour with yellow flanks. Minute scales are embedded in the skin.

The fish has a protruding lower jaw with small blunt teeth. The dorsal, caudal and the anal fins form a continuous fringe; there are no pelvic fins on the Eel.

The eel is widespread across Europe , being found in Iceland and the North Cape in the north, to the coasts of Morocco in the south and the Black Sea in the east. Eels can be found in all types of waters, including both upland and lowland, flowing water and Stillwater 's.

In the UK they can be found in canals, river systems, farmer's ponds or large lakes and reservoirs

Eels are the only European fish to leave the European coast to spawn in the sea. Depending upon growing conditions (i.e. temperature and food) male eels spend anywhere between 7 and 20 years and females between nine and 50 years, in freshwater before returning to the sea and maturing. Body condition may be the stimulus to migrate. The eels become silver in colour and migration becomes more active on dark moonless nights. Spawning has never been observed, but it is believed to take place in the spring, deep in the Sargasso Sea , between the Bahamas and Bermuda . Maturing females have been reported to contain 10 million eggs (The eggs have never been collected).

The eggs develop into a “leaf-like” larva called a leptocephalus and it was originally thought that these larvae took 3 years to reach the European coast. However, recent studies have suggested that it only takes 12 months to reach the Europe . When the larvae reach the continental shelf they change into what is called the “Glass Eel” stage before continuing with their migration. In the UK , during the spring and when the temperatures have reached 9 degrees centigrade around March to May, the glass eels make their migration through the estuaries and into freshwater.

To help their passage through the estuary they use the tidal currents, migrating upstream on the flood tide. During the ebb tide they move out of the current towards the bankside to prevent being washed out to sea. In a number of British estuaries, they are exploited, mainly with dip nets. Since the 1970`s there has been a fall in the catch of glass eel/elvers, there has been a progressive decline in recruitment to the European eel population. Numbers of young eels entering the fishery are believed to have fallen by up to 95-99%. In addition to the effects on commercial and recreational fisheries, falling eel numbers will also affect their predators, including species of conservation importance (otters, & Bitterns). In 2007 eels were added to the UK BAP Species list. The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) has declared that the European eel stock is outside of safe biological limits and that the fishery is not sustainable.

The decline is thought to be closely related to the position of the North Wall of the Gulf Stream . Other possible causes are pollution, barriers to the migration and over fishing.

Handling the Eel.

Whilst in pursuit of the eel with rod and line, it is advisable that all potential eel bites should struck as early as possible so as to reduce the dangers of deep hooking. Once an eel has been hooked and landed, the eel should be removed away from the waters edge and laid on soft material such as a carp unhooking mat. If the eel is found to be active and uncontrollable, try covering its eyes with your hand and lying the eel on its back for a short period of 20 to 30 seconds. Please make sure that your hands and also the eel is kept moist to prevent the removal of the protective layer of slime which the eel needs to keep itself free from infections. Don't wrap the eel in a cloth or use newspaper, this will remove the slime and therefore cause damage to the eel.

Once the eel has been calmed down by gentle handling, you can then assess the location of the hook, if the hook is visible in the front of the mouth, strong forceps should be used to remove the hook. If the hook is out of sight. I.e. the eel has swallowed the hook. Don't use a disgorger to try to remove the hook. These can possible damage to vital organs, e.g. heart, liver, etc that are located just behind the eel's head. Better method is to cut the line as near to the eel's mouth as you can and leave the hook in its position. It has been known that with some eels the hook has been passed through its digestive system or it has re-gurgated the bait with the hook still attached to the bait.

When taking a picture of the eel please do not hold the eel very tightly around a 10 inch area of the head. This area is where the internal organs are and holding the eel tightly will cause damage to the internal organs of the eel and also don't pickup the eel by placing a finger in its gills; this will result in the death of the eel.

Please show respect to the amazing fish.