Anguilla anguilla (aka European eel) were and still are a critically important food source across much of Europe. Because of this strong human dependence, Anguilla anguilla are currently listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List – meaning their populations are extremely low and the loss of this species in the near future is highly probable. Once there were European eels across most of Europe, but in the late 20th century declines in eel populations exceeded 90% (to learn more see this GREAT blog post: Where the eel was). Declines were triggered both by human’s extensive exploitation of the fishery, as well as other human modifications to rivers and landscapes, such as dams and pollution. Dams fragment riverscapes where eels live, and in turn, eels can’t access important areas (known as habitats) where they spawn and reproduce their offspring. Without new offspring eel populations begin to decline and decrease in size.
I spotted this eel in a tributary to the River Dart in southwest England. This and several other eels were swimming and hunting for food in the tributary. Eels of this size are yellow eel and not quite yet at the age of maturity for reproduction. Less than 1 kilometer north of where I found this eel there is a dam that limits (if not completely blocks) eel passage. There is a great deal of on-going work in England and other parts of Europe to restore connectivity between rivers and the sea to help eel populations recover. One great project is supported through the Clyde River Foundation, working with local schools to raise the eels and relocate them in nearby rivers.
Photo and haiku: Steph Januchowski-Hartley