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Eel (Anguilla anguilla)

Silver eels caught on their way to sea in October (Ben Rushbrooke)

Silver eels caught on their way to sea in October (Ben Rushbrooke)

Loch Maree is well known for the size of some of its eels. Eels are found in both deep water and shallow water. Most male eels turn silvery in colour and migrate to sea when they are about 35 cm long. However, eels of over 60 cm (thought to be females) are sometimes recorded in local freshwaters. Some may be 40 years old or more.

Where eels go after they leave freshwater remains something of a mystery. For many years experts have thought that they head to the Sargasso Sea, southwest of Bermuda, where they spawn and die.

Elvers are young eels which after 2 or more years at sea drifting in the Gulf Stream, and upon reaching a length of about 65mm, enter freshwater and move upstream into lochs and tributaries. Initially they feed on small invertebrates. As they grow larger, they also feed on small fish, small frogs and carrion.

Elver numbers have declined to less than 2% of former levels in some rivers. Because of this, and the complexity of their life cycle (and how little is known about it) conservationists are very concerned for the future of the European eel. WRFT has collected much information about eels during river surveys and at the WRFT Tournaig Trap Project.