Eel, European

Anguilla anguilla

Method of production — Farmed
Production country — Europe
Production method — Recirculating system
Picture of Eel, European

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

Updated: July 2019.

European eel is not farmed like other aquaculture species, the process comprises of catching of juvenile eels from the wild and growing them in captivity. This form of aquaculture is called on-growing or ranching. European eel is assessed as Critically Endangered in the wild and is a IUCN Red List species. Eel ranching contributes to depletion of endangered wild stocks and does not provide a farmed alternative to reduce pressure on wild stocks. Eel are carnivorous species requiring high protein diets including fishmeal and fish oil which cannot be assured as being sourced from a sustainable supply.

Feed Resources

Criterion Score: -4 info

European eel are fed a commercial pelleted diet containing both marine and vegetable proteins and oils. As this species is not certified to any production standards the sourcing of these ingredients cannot be verified to be responsible and it is at the feed manufacturer level that any responsible sourcing decisions will be made. It is difficult to ascertain the fishmeal and fish oil content of feed, however there is a high demand for proteins and oils

Environmental Impacts

Criterion Score: Critical fail

Despite European eel being farmed in recirculating systems, which for any other farmed species would result in a favourable score in this section, results in a critical fail for eel. This is due to the fact that European eel are a ranched species as opposed to being farmed within a closed lifecycle. Ranching is the process of on-growing wild caught juveniles to harvest size within a contained facility, in this case a land based recirculating system. As the IUCN continues to list European eel as critically endangered and ICES still recommends a zero catch for this species, combined with the complete dependence on wild juveniles for on-growing, frequently misnamed as farming, a critical fail and avoidance of this species necessary until such time as the lifecycle can be closed and hatchery reared young are produced.

Fish Health and Welfare

Criterion Score: -1 info

Information pertaining to the welfare and humane slaughter of European eel is difficult to obtain, however it would appear that in the absence of production standards no provision is made for either.


Criterion Score: 1 info

As recirculating aquaculture systems are land based many of the regulations that apply to open systems do not apply. Those that do are deemed to be effective, however there still remains a capture fishery for this critically endangered species despite the advice of a zero catch. European eel production is not certified.

Production method

Recirculating system

Eels are cultured in recirculation systems that are fully enclosed and have little direct environmental impacts.


European eel life history is complex. Eels are catadromous, meaning that they spawn in the sea and return to freshwater rivers and streams to grow. The European eel breeds in the mid-Atlantic in the south-western part of the Sargasso Sea. Larvae are carried by the Gulf Stream to the continental shelf of Europe in about 1 year, where they metamorphose into colourless elvers or glass eels and enter continental waters. Elvers then start to move up rivers, in UK, in February and April. When about 2-3 they start to develop tiny scales and after 4 years are completely scaled. The freshwater stage is a feeding and growing phase. At this stage they are known as yellow eels. As they mature and grow they change into silver eels. Eels that grow up in freshwater generally become females, while the ones in brackish water become males or females. Males change into silver eels when 6-12 years old (30-48cm), the females when 10-30 years old (50-130cm). As they mature sexually, they descend the river or migrate to the sea. If silver eels are prevented from returning to the sea, they start to feed again and can live for over 80 years. Growth and age at maturity are linked to regional temperature (mature later at colder temperatures). The average length of adults is around 60-80 cm, when they weigh around 1-2 kg. It is thought that they use the earth’s magnetic field to find their way to the Sargasso Sea to spawn. Eels die after spawning.


Jacoby, D. & Gollock, M. 2014. Anguilla anguilla. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species2014: e.T60344A45833138. Available at [Accessed on 19.07.2019].

ICES. 2018. European eel (Anguilla anguilla) throughout its natural range. ICES Advice on fishing opportunities, catch, and effort Ecoregions in the Northeast Atlantic. Available at: [Accessed on 17.07.2019].

FEAP. 2017. European Aquaculture Production Report 2008-2016. Available at [Accessed on 19.07.2019].

FAO. 2004. Cultured Aquatic Species Information Programme. Anguilla anguilla. Cultured Aquatic Species Information Programme . Text by The Danish Aquaculture Development Group (DANAQ). In: FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department [online]. Rome. Updated 1 January 2004. Available at [Accessed on 17.07.2019].

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FAO. 2005. National Aquaculture Legislation Overview. Denmark. National Aquaculture Legislation Overview (NALO) Fact Sheets. Text by Skonhoft, A. In: FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department [online]. Rome. Updated 1 February 2005. Available at [Accessed on 19.07.2019].