Species Profile - American Eel
The American eel, a popular baitfish used by striped bass anglers, can be hard to appreciate at first glance. It’s snakelike in how it looks and moves. It's a bit slimy and hard to handle. Despite appearances, the American eel is a truly remarkable fish with a life cycle like no other in our waters.
The only catadromous fish species in Massachusetts, this eel spends the majority of its long life (upwards of 20 years) in fresh or brackish water before it finally spawns in the ocean. With the ability to slither over wet patches of earth and grass, eels are widespread and can be found in almost every freshwater body in Massachusetts. They spend their freshwater cycle as opportunistic feeders, eating everything from small fish, frogs, insects, crustaceans, and dead organisms. They grow slowly as “yellow” eels until they finally reach maturity. At this point they transform into “silver” eels ranging in length from 2 to 5 feet, and head downstream to the ocean to make the impressive migration to the Sargasso Sea, an area around the island of Bermuda. Once there, they spawn and their leaf-like leptocephalus larvae are carried along the Gulf Stream current back to the Atlantic coast of North America. During their journey they metamorphose into small, clear ribbon-shaped fish, known as glass-eels, that can move upstream in freshwater rivers and streams to begin the long process once more.