Department of Environmental Conservation

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Freshwater Eel

Family: Anguillidae

The freshwater eels of this family are long, tubular fish with no pelvic fins, embedded scales, paired gill slits, and joined dorsal, caudal and anal fins. The family is global, with representatives on all continents except Antarctica. Only one species is found in North America, however. Eels in this family are catadromous. That means they spawn in salt water but spend the bulk of their lives growing in fresh water.

The American eel, which is native to all drainages in New York, spawns in the Sargasso Sea. Newly-hatched larvae (leptocephali) begin their migration to coastal streams where they transform and move upstream. Some travel thousands of kilometers. Historically it was not unusual to find large eel in small pools in upland streams throughout the state. Because they are migratory, they inhabit multiple habitats at different times during their lives.

American Eel

Image of an American Eel

Anguilla rostrata

American Eel lives in rivers and lakes in many kinds of areas and migrates to the ocean for spawning. It is native to 17 watersheds and was introduced to Erie, but is not sustained there. It has been extirpated from the Allegheny, and has declined to levels below detection in the Chemung and Susquehanna. It has been greatly reduced throughout the watersheds of the Great Lakes. Recovery programs are underway.

Fish atlas map for American Eel.