Species At Risk

American Eel

(Anguilla rostrata)


American Eel


The American Eel starts life in the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic Ocean and migrates along the east coast of North America. In Canada, it is found in fresh water and salt water areas that are accessible from the Atlantic Ocean. This area extends from Niagara Falls in the Great Lakes up to the mid-Labrador coast. In Ontario, American Eels can be found as far inland as Algonquin Park. Once the eels mature (10-25 years) they return to the Sargasso Sea to spawn.


Over the course of its life, the American Eel can be found in both salt and fresh water. In fact, some scientists consider the American Eel to have the broadest diversity of habitats of any fish species in the world.


Dams and other in-water barriers can prevent access to feeding and spawning areas; this is known as fragmentation. Hydro-electric turbines also kill American Eels that try to pass through the turbines during their downstream spawning migration. Invasive species and chemical contaminants may also pose a threat. Fishing had an impact on the American Eel, although fishing is no longer allowed in Ontario. Climate change may also pose a threat as changes to the Gulf Stream patterns could interfere with migration.


The American Eel is protected under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act.

What You Can Do to Help the American Eel

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources tracks species at risk such as the American Eel. You can use a handy online form to report your sightings to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful. nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca
  • Contact your local Ministry of Natural Resources office for more information about programs such as CFWIP (Community Fisheries and Wildlife Improvement Program)
  • Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
  • Private land owners have a very important role to play in species at risk recovery. You may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.

Did you know?

American Eels were a highly prized food source for Aboriginal people living near the upper St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario, especially during the winter months and when travelling.

Did you know?

Until the early 1990s, the American Eel was one of the top three species making up the commercial fishing harvest from Lake Ontario. Since then, the number of young American Eels returning to Lake Ontario through the upper St. Lawrence River has declined drastically. Ontario closed the commercial and recreational American Eel fisheries in 2004 and 2005.

Did you know?

The American Eel is the only fish in North America that is “catadromous”, which means they are born in the ocean, mature in freshwater, then return to the ocean to spawn.

Did you know?

American Eels can absorb oxygen through their skin as well as through their gills, allowing them to travel briefly over wet grass or mud. This is useful when migrating since eels may have to move around barriers.

Did you know?

Eels can cover their bodies with a mucous layer which makes them almost impossible to hold and gives them the well-earned description “slippery as an eel.”

The Endangered Species Act

Contact your local ministry office

Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.