First evidence of European eels exiting the Mediterranean Sea during their spawning migration

Abstract : The migration route and the spawning site of the European eel Anguilla anguilla are still uncertain. It has been suggested that the Mediterranean eel stock does not contribute to spawning because there is no evidence of eels leaving the Mediterranean Sea. To test this hypothesis, we equipped eight female silver eels from the south of France with pop-up satellite tags during escapement from coastal waters. Once in deeper water, the eels quickly established diel vertical migration (DVM) between the upper and lower mesopelagic zone. Five tagged eels were taken by predators within the Mediterranean, but two eels reached the Atlantic Ocean after six months and at distances greater than 2000 km from release. These eels ceased their DVM while they negotiated the Gibraltar Strait, and remained in deep water until they reached the Atlantic Ocean, when they recommenced DVM. Our results are the first to show that eels from Mediterranean can cross the Strait of Gibraltar and continue their migration into the Atlantic Ocean. This finding suggests that Mediterranean countries, as for other EU states, have an important role to play in contributing to conservation efforts for the recovery of the European eel stock. Although European eels are found in fresh and brackish waters throughout Europe and North Africa, they escape to sea to spawn towards the end of their lives. European eels, like American eels, are presumed to spawn in the Sargasso Sea, where eel larvae of both species are found in the greatest abundance 1–3. The evidence for a single spawning area is strong and modern genetic studies indicate a panmictic species 4,5. European eels therefore need to undertake a spawning migration of at least 5000 km from the western margin of the continental habitat in Europe; this distance is much greater for eels escaping from more easterly locations, including those in the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas. However, despite the advent of marine remote sensing, genetic and otolith analyses, electronic tagging, and investigative computer modelling in the century since Schmidt 3
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Elsa Amilhat, Kim Aarestrup, Elisabeth Faliex, Gaël Simon, Håkan Westerberg, et al.. First evidence of European eels exiting the Mediterranean Sea during their spawning migration. Scientific Reports, Nature Publishing Group, 2016, ⟨10.1038/srep21817⟩. ⟨hal-01293123⟩

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