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Species at Risk

The American Eel

Anguilla rostrata

juvenile eel (elver) in Fundy National Park
Juvenile eel (elver) in Fundy National Park
© Parks Canada
A silver eel in Dickson Brook, Fundy National Park
A silver eel in Dickson Brook, Fundy National Park
© Parks Canada

Parks Canada works to protect the ecological integrity of our national parks and has a responsibility to protect and conserve species at risk, with a proven track record for their effective recovery. In 2006, after dramatic population declines of up to 99% in Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River, the American eel (Anguilla rostrata) was assessed as a species of Special Concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

In Atlantic Canada, the eel is found in seven national parks and is of great cultural value to Aboriginal communities. The eel's recent declines in other regions and its potential for becoming a species at risk prompted Parks Canada to work with Aboriginal communities and other partners to embark on a multi-year project both to assess the status of the American eel in Atlantic Canada and to educate Canadians about this fascinating species.

What is it?

Adult eels are known as “yellow eels” and are olive-green to brown on their back and pale green or yellow on their sides and underneath. Adult female eels are usually 60 to 90 cm in length whereas adult males are typically 35-40 cm. Their dorsal and anal fins are long and joined to the tail fin and there are two small pectoral fins behind the gills. Spawning (sexually mature) eels are dark brown or black on top and silver underneath, hence they are called “silver eels”. At this final stage of their life cycle, the American eel's eyes will enlarge and they will stop eating as their digestive system begins to shut down to allow for increased growth of their reproductive organs. To aid in swimming back to the sea to spawn, their pectoral fins will also increase in size.

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