The American Eel
People have fished and farmed eels for thousands of years, but until recent years, little was known about the eel's complex life history. Eels have played a major role in the human diet in Europe and Asia. A young life phase of American eels, called glass eels, cyclically fetch a high price on the Asian market and are also harvested in the United States.
The American eel is the only freshwater eel found in North America. They begin their lives as eggs hatching in the North Atlantic in the Sargasso Sea. Hundreds of millions of eggs hatch into larvae that drift with the Gulf Stream and take years to reach their freshwater, estuarine and marine habitats from Greenland south to Venezuela. In these habitats, the eels mature, changing color over time, and then, as adults, millions of them return to the Sargasso Sea to spawn and die.
American eels remain widely distributed throughout much of their historical range, despite reduced numbers over the past century and habitat loss from dams and other obstructions. In some coastal rivers, eels are the most commonly found fish, occupying more aquatic habitats than any other species. Harvest quotas and mechanisms restoring fish passage have reduced stressors on the species. Read more about the American eel (Factsheet, PDF).
Considering Endangered Species Act Protection
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reviewed the status of the American eel in 2007 and in 2015, finding both times that Endangered Species Act protection for the American eel is not warranted.
After examining the best scientific and commercial information available about the eel from Greenland south along the North American coast to Venezuela in South America and as far inland as the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River drainage, the Service found that the American eel is stable. While American eels still face local mortality from harvest and hydroelectric facilities, this is not threatening the overall species. Harvest quotas and mechanisms restoring eel passage around dams and other obstructions have also reduced these effects.