American eel Anguilla rostrata – The American eel undergoes one of the longest and fish migrations of any East Coast species. Adults travel thousands of miles from their natal spawning grounds in Virginia to the Sargasso Sea to spawn at great depths and then die. The tiny planktonic larvae – or leptocephali – travel the thousands of miles back to Virginia rivers where they head upstream until they have reached maturity at age 5 to 7 and are ready to make their own spawning migration. American eels are popular for food and for bait, making them a valuable, but also vulnerable to overfishing. Recent studies show sharp declines in this important but little known species, leading to further research on how to better manage this species.
Conservation Note: Due to recent declines in the past few decades, this important economic species is now part of a monitoring program at VIMS and other facilities along the East Coast. The damming of rivers has long been a hindrance to annual migrations, but the real effects have been neglect; glass eels are very profitable overseas and therefore subject to poaching while the fishery for adult eels has long been effectively unregulated.