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Eel, European (Farmed)

Anguilla anguilla

Method of production - Farmed
Production country - Europe
Production method - Recirculation system
Accreditation - None
Fish type - Oily fish

Sustainability rating Click for explaination of rating

This fish, caught by the methods and in the area listed above, is the least sustainable fish to eat and should be avoided. Click on the rating icon above to read more and on the alternatives tab below to find sustainable fish to eat.

Sustainability overview

European eel is not farmed like other aquaculture species, the process comprises of catching of juvenile eels from the wild and growing them in captivity. This form of aquaculture is called ranching. European eel is assessed as Critically Endangered in the wild and is a IUCN Red List species. Eel ranching contributes to depletion of endangered wild stocks and does not provide a farmed alternative to reduce pressure on wild stocks. Eel are carnivorous species requiring high protein diets including fishmeal and fish oil which cannot be assured as being sourced from a sustainable supply.


European eel life history is complex. Eels are catadromous, meaning that they spawn in the sea and return to freshwater rivers and streams to grow. The European eel breeds in the mid-Atlantic in the southwestern part of the Sargasso Sea. Larvae are carried by the Gulf Stream to the continental shelf of Europe in about 1 year, where they metamorphose into colourless elvers or glass eels and enter continental waters. Elvers then start to move up rivers, in UK, in February and April. When about 2-3 they start to develop tiny scales and after 4 years are completely scaled. The freshwater stage is a feeding and growing phase. At this stage they are known as yellow eels. As they mature and grow they change into silver eels. Eels that grow up in freshwater generally become females, while the ones in brackish water become males or females. Males change into silver eels when 6-12 years old (30-48cm), the females when 10-30 years old (50-130cm). As they mature sexually, they descend the river or migrate to the sea. If silver eels are prevented from returning to the sea, they start to feed again and can live for over 80 years. Growth and age at maturity are linked to regional temperature (mature later at colder temperatures). The average length of adults is around 60-80 cm, when they weigh around 1-2 kg. It is thought that they use the earth's magnetic field to find their way to the Sargasso Sea to spawn. Eels die after spawning.

Stock information

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Stock information


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Production method

Recirculation system

Eels are cultured in recirculation systems that are fully enclosed and have little direct environmental impacts.

Read the MCS Aquaculture policy position paper

MCS Aquaculture Assessment Methodology 2012

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