Maine Seafood Guide - Eel

Eel

species description | season | status | regulatory authority |
harvest method | recreational harvest | health benefits & risks | 
buying & preparing | brands | certifications | links | featured harvester



Species Description
American eel Anguilla rostrata
also known as elver, glass eel, unagi

Wild and farm-raised (outside of Maine) from wild-caught juveniles.

American eel is a catadromous fish, which means it spends most of its life in freshwater but migrates to the ocean to reproduce. In the case of the eel, sexually immature adult “yellow” eels live in lakes and rivers and, after anywhere from three to twenty years, migrate downstream in fall as “silver” eels to the Sargasso Sea to spawn. The adults die, and eventually the juveniles, known as glass eels or elvers, find their way into rivers along the Atlantic coast. Elvers are shipped overseas, primarily to Asia, where they are raised in aquaculture ponds into adults to be sold live, fresh, and frozen.



Season
There are three distinct fisheries for eels in Maine which relate to three different life stages: A spring (March-May) glass eel/elver fishery; a year-round yellow eel fishery; and a fall (September-November) silver eel fishery.
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Status
From a biological perspective, much is still unknown about American eels. Information is limited about their abundance, status at all life stages, and habitat requirements. The East Coast American eel population is at or near historically low levels due to a combination of historical overfishing, habitat loss, food web alterations, predation, turbine mortality, environmental changes, toxins and contaminants, and disease. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are considering whether to list American eel as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Legislation passed in 2006 eliminated new entry into the Maine elver fishery via lottery. Currently an elver fishing license may be issued only to an individual who possessed an elver fishing license in the previous calendar year.
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Regulatory Authority
Jointly managed by the Department of Marine Resources and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.
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Harvest Method
Elvers are caught in tidal streams with hand-held dip nets or fyke nets, funnel-shaped nets of fine mesh placed along shore and facing downstream. Dealers buy elvers from individual fishermen and ship them to Asia. Yellow eels are caught with fyke nets and eel pots. Silver eels are trapped with weirs across streams, rivers, and lake outlets.
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Recreational Harvest
A person may take for personal use up to 50 eels (minimum size six inches) per day from the coastal waters of the state by spear gun, harpoon, trap, or hook and line.
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Health Benefits & Risks
Eel is higher in fat and calories but lower in omega-3 fatty acids than other seafood choices. Eel is high in vitamin A.

Average mercury levels in American eel have not been established. Eels fall about in the middle of the food chain, and the relative concentrations of mercury and other potentially toxic chemicals will reflect the conditions of where an eel was raised or caught.
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Buying & Preparing
Most eel available in Maine restaurants is imported fresh and frozen from China, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea and Portugal. Eel is called unagi in sushi restaurants. Eels can be smoked, grilled, fried, or baked. Traditional or historic preparations include jellied eels in Europe, eel chowder, and smoked eel.
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Companies, Brands, and Labels
None.
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Certifications & Verifications
None.
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Links

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Featured Harvester
TBD.
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species description | season | status | harvest method | recreational harvest
health benefits & risks | 
buying & preparing | brands certifications | links | featured harvester