Eew, the Freshwater Eel and Why You Shouldn’t Eat Me!

Monterey Bay Aquarium's seafood watch
Freshwater Eel

Hi, I’m Eew, a freshwater eel. I got my name because, well, humans don’t seem to like eels very much. Maybe it’s because we’re slimy, long, and very snake-like. Maybe it’s because we have a mouth full of sharp teeth, and we open and close our mouths often so we can breathe. Honestly, I’m not that scary! I would keep your fingers out of crevices while visiting a coral reef because our first instinct is to bite. It’s not like we have any limbs to use on self-defense!

Want to know something funny? Even though we are called “freshwater” eels, we actually spend a portion of our lives in the ocean! Eel larvae (newborn eels) live in the ocean, and when large enough they enter estuaries (water in bays that is less salty than ocean seawater), and then finally to freshwater rivers. Adult eels enter the ocean to spawn, the opposite of salmon. Salmon leave the ocean to make the trek up rivers to spawn where they were born. There about 6 species of freshwater eels used in sushi, where it is called unagi.

I’m on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch red list, which means that you should not eat me! That is because the current freshwater eel fishery is not sustainable. About 90 percent of the eel consumed in the United States is farm-raised. While that sounds nice, it doesn’t take in account that young eels are captured from the wild to be raised in farms. These young eels are not allowed to grow up and reproduce, hence the unsustainable part of the fishery. Ugh, I would hate to live in such crowded quarters, with poop and disease everywhere! Besides, since eels are carnivores, farmed eels just end up eating wild caught fish anyways (which is very inefficient if you think about the farm animals humans raise to eat).

So, in short, please do not order unagi with your sushi! All of us freshwater eels thank you!

Please download Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app for information on other seafood not to eat.

UPDATE: Maine’s (USA) eels are being illegally caught to supply Asian market. Read more in this Economist article