American Eel

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In the unlikely event that someone would catch an American eel (Anguilla rostrata), they might not know what this odd-looking creature was! They are a brown color on top and a yellowish-tan on the sides. They have a long, snake-like body with a fish's mouth and jaws and very small gill openings. A good way of identifying them is the continuous dorsal, caudal and anal fin. It is somewhat nocturnal, feeding mostly at night and relying on its sense of smell rather than sight.

Of all of Ohio's fishes, the American eel travels the farthest to spawn. Eels are catadromous, spawning in saltwater and maturing in freshwater. To breed, eels travel to the Atlantic Ocean's Sargasso Sea, a huge mass of floating vegetation. Scientists believe that the males and females die shortly after spawning. Females may lay over 2.5 million eggs. When the larvae are born, they are worm-like and transparent. These "glass eels" then begin a trip to the United States growing into elvers along the way. Once they reach the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, the males will remain in nearby rivers. The females will continue on and, using tributary streams, arrive at the Great Lakes and then into Ohio waters. This journey may take up to a year.

Male eels will grow to approximately eighteen inches; females can reach up to fifty-two inches in body length. They are omnivores, eating fish, invertebrates, and carrion.

Eels are commercially caught or farm raised and sold for food. The price for elvers can reach up to $300 per pound in Asia. However, the demand for eels as food in the Midwest is not high.

Scientists believe that American eels did not live in Lake Erie until the completion of the Welland Canal in 1829. In 1882, the Ohio Fish Commission (the predecessor to The Ohio Department of Natural Resources) released 128,100 elvers throughout Ohio. This practice continued for approximately 10 years.

Between 1895 and 1910, eels were common, even in central Ohio. During that time fishermen and "eelers" caught many of them. In Fishes of Ohio, Ohio zoology professor Milton B. Trautman (1899-1991) reported that "Cameron King told me that his father and he caught one or two bushels of eels daily during 1902 in Maumee Bay,?." The American eel is a threatened species in Ohio and numbers are beginning to decline throughout the United States due to commercial fishing and the increase in the number of dams and other man-made barriers being built. These barriers prevent the eels from going to or from their spawning grounds.

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