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European eel. (Photo: Stock File)

Eels are not trapped in the Mediterranean, a study concludes

  (UNITED KINGDOM, 2/26/2016)

The long running debate about whether eels in the Mediterranean were trapped and unable to find the Straits of Gibraltar and navigate back to the Atlantic has been brought to an end by an international team of researchers.

The scientists tracked eels along more than 2000km from lagoons of the Mediterranean Sea and into the Atlantic Ocean, and verified that they likely to be able to reach the spawning area in the Sargasso Sea.

During their migration, eels moved to deep water (up to 800 m) during each day and into shallower water (~350 m) at night-time. This is the same type of behaviour as reported in other studies of eel migration, but it is not clear why eels do this; it might be to regulate temperature, to avoid predators, or for navigation.

When eels reached the Straits of Gibraltar, they abandoned their vertical migration and instead swam to the seabed. There, they took advantage of outward flowing currents to make their migration to the Atlantic easier. After exiting the Straits they resumed their daily vertical migrations.

In order to follow the fish, the team attached satellite trackers to 8 eels captured in lagoons of Salses-Leucate and Gruissan, southern France.

The study was led by Elsa Amilhat and a team from the University of Perpignan, with the help of the local fishermen, and in collaboration with researchers from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (CEFAS, UK), DTU-Aqua (Denmark), and the University of Agricultural Sciences (Sweden). The research was funded by the French Ministry of Ecology.

Dr David Righton, Principal CEFAS Scientist, said, "All of the eels migrated west after release, and two of them made it more than 2000km from release and into the Atlantic. This is a great achievement for the team, and a significant scientific finding."

Several months after release, the group of scientists could complete the migration paths in detail and the research was published in Nature.

Eels are currently an endangered species; the population of European eel has become seriously depleted over the last three decades.

In European countries, the resource has the protection of the EU Eel Recovery Plan, which aims to restore the stock of eels to levels last seen 30 years ago.


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