It’s a cold November day as I sit writing this column and what’s a more perfect topic to write about on a day like this than eels? Our friends down here from the great lakes region are familiar with a nasty bloodsucking fellow up their way called the lamprey and we’re glad that you didn’t bring him with you.
In Alabama there are dozens of species of eels in the marine and estuarine waters with most of them burrowers in the mud bottoms that we rarely, if ever, get to see. The three we most commonly get a look at are the American eel, Blackedged moray and the snake eels.
The American eel is from the freshwater eel family (Anguillidae) because that’s where it spends most of its life. This fish’s breeding pattern is similar to the salmon’s only backwards. The anadromous salmon spends the majority of its life in the ocean, ascending rivers and streams to spawn and die. The American eel is catadromous it does the opposite.
It lives almost all its life in freshwater rivers and streams heading out to the area of the Sargasso Sea a few hundred miles east of Bermuda. This eel ranges from Labrador to South America with three footers considered large but they are known to get to four and a half feet. This species is seldom actively fished for in Alabama but can be an incidental catch on trotlines, hand lines or rarely in crab traps and shrimp trawls.
Blackedged morays are found only in the Gulf of Mexico on muddy bottoms and near rubble. It’s found primarily in the western Gulf and grows to one foot or two feet at most. Little is known of its reproductive habits but it is not catadromous. It seems to like to hunt at night and is frequently caught in shrimp trawls. This eel can deliver a nasty little bite, which commonly gets infected quickly. Folklore says that this fish’s bite is venomous but that’s not true, though a badly infected bite may make it seem like it.
Snake eels of various species are found up and down the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf coast. They have a hard pointed finless tail that they use to burrow into the sand tail first. They range in color from a drab olive grey to individuals having spots, bars and speckles and are usually caught in shrimp trawls as part of the by-catch. Snake eels are most often two to three feet in length but the king snake eel can get much larger. Kings have been measured to eight feet with a diameter as big around as your thigh.
They are known for their nasty attitude of biting at anything that gets close to them, hence their nickname “Rattle snake of the sea”. It’s doubtful if you’ll ever come up with one on your hook and line tackle but if you do just cut the line. Your fingers will thank you.
Think Global – Act Local!