American Eel

American eel (Anguilla rostrata) 

  • The wondrous American eel is the only catadromous fish in the Connecticut River. It begins life far away in the warm Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean. Although no one has ever witnessed eels spawning, millions of eggs are present in the Sargasso Sea. 
  • The eggs develop into transparent, leaf-like larvae that drift north in the Gulf stream, arriving at the coast in about a year. By this time they have formed an eel-shaped body and fins, but are still transparent and called ‘glass eels.’ 
  • When the eels have developed greenish-brown pigmentation they are called elvers and will remain in estuaries or swim upstream, even as far as hundreds of miles, where they slowly develop into adult yellow eels. 
  • American eels are nocturnal, swimming and feeding on insects, fish, crabs, worms, clams, frogs, and carrion at night. 
  • In as few as 3 but as many 40 years, eels sexually mature, turn silver color, develop large eyes and thick skin, and begin their long journey back to the Sargasso Sea. 
  • The number of American eels has dropped dramatically and the species is under review for endangered species status. 
  • At the Robert Barrett Fishway there are five eelways or ramps they can climb at night, that aid the Connecticut River population upstream migration. 

Fun Facts 

  • Unlike other fish, eels can swim backwards and forwards and twist rapidly. To get a bite of a larger fish, they grab on with their teeth and spin their bodies 6 to 14 times per second. Fishermen who catch eels report that they spin wildly on the line. 
  • Eels can travel short distances over land, especially wet grass or rocks, because they can absorb oxygen through their skin as well as their gills. 

Seasonal Contact Info

Robert Barrett Fishway
1-3 County Bridge
Holyoke, MA 01040
Tel: (413) 536-9460
Email the Fishway