Eel, European (Farmed)
Production country — Europe
Production method — Recirculating system
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.
Criterion Score: -4
European eel are fed a commercial diet. The traceability and sourcing of ingredients is unknown, they also require a high percentage of fishmeal and fish oil in their diets.
Criterion Score: Default red rating.
Due to the reliance on wild caught juvenile (glass) eels for on growing the production of eels is termed “ranching” rather than farming. The European eel is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN therefore the default advice for this species is to Avoid.
Fish Health and Welfare
Criterion Score: 0
There are no standards in place for welfare or humane slaughter.
Criterion Score: 3
Overall the management has scored well as the land based fully enclosed nature of the production system does not require the same regulation or planning requirements as an open system. This system is not certified to any independent production standard.
Eels are cultured in recirculation systems that are fully enclosed and have little direct environmental impacts.
Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.Anchovy, anchovies
Herring or sild
Salmon, Atlantic (Farmed)
Salmon, Chinook, King Salmon
Salmon, Chum, Keta, Calico or Dog salmon
Salmon, Coho , Silver, White
Salmon, Pink, Spring , humpback
Salmon, Sockeye , Red Salmon, Bluebacks, Redfish
Scad, Horse Mackerel
Tuna, Atlantic bluefin (Caught at sea)
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 southwestern 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.
ReferencesWageningen University.2017.Eel research at Wageningen University & Research further expanded. Available online at:https://www.wur.nl/en/newsarticle/Eel-research-Wageningen-further-expanded.htm
Northern Aqu Farms. Aquaculture pages. Available online at: http://www.northernaquafarms.com/aquaculture/page5.html. Accessed online 01/03/2012.
FAO 2007-2018. National Aquaculture Sector Overview. Netherlands. National Aquaculture Sector Overview Fact Sheets. Text by Peter G.M. van der Heijden. In: FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department [online]. Rome. Updated 11 July 2007. [Cited 7 September 2018].
Freyhof, J. & Kottelat, M. 2010. Anguilla anguilla. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1.
EU Council Regulation EC No 1100/2007
FAO 2004-2018. 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. [Cited 7 September 2018].
Catching, handling and processing eels. J. HORNE AND K. BIRNIE, MINISTRY OF TECHNOLOGY, TORRY RESEARCH STATION TORRY ADVISORY NOTE No. 37 (Revised) Http://www.academicjournals.org/ijfa/abstracts/abstracts/abstracts2009/Jun/Karipoglou%20and%20Nathanailides.htm
Nutreco pers.comm. 2012