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WHAT IS THE EEL?


The American eel (Anguilla rostrata) is found over a large geographic range - much of the eastern coast of North America including the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, deep into the Mississippi drainage basin, through Central America into northern South America, and as far northeast as southern Greenland.



Yet only one area - a stretch of ocean east of the Bahamas, the Sargasso Sea - is the source for all the eels that blanket this region. The American eel is considered a freshwater fish, though catadromous - it matures in fresh or brackish water and reproduces in saltwater. The species is highly migratory with multiple habitat requirements including the open ocean, coasts and estuaries, rivers and streams, lakes, and ponds.














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The major threats facing eels are considered to be commercial fisheries, habitat loss, chemical pollutants, disease arising from introduced parasites, and oceanographic changes. These factors may be operating in tandem and their impacts may have gradually accrued over time. The long lifespan and high fat content of eels have exposed them to relatively high levels of persistent, bioaccumulating contaminants (e.g., PCBs, mirex, mercury) over parts of their range. Increased mortality, reduced reproductive ability and disruption of migratory behavior are among the many potential effects, but few studies specifically on eels have been conducted. High levels of contaminants have prompted human health advisories concerning eel consumption in some states.

 

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