, Volume 101, Issue 12, pp 1041–1054 | Cite as

Low larval abundance in the Sargasso Sea: new evidence about reduced recruitment of the Atlantic eels

  • Reinhold Hanel
  • Daniel Stepputtis
  • Sylvain Bonhommeau
  • Martin Castonguay
  • Matthias Schaber
  • Klaus Wysujack
  • Michael Vobach
  • Michael J. Miller
Original Paper


The European eel Anguilla anguilla has shown decreased recruitment in recent decades. Despite increasing efforts to establish species recovery measures, it is unclear if the decline was caused by reduced numbers of reproductive-stage silver eels reaching the spawning area, low early larval survival, or increased larval mortality during migration to recruitment areas. To determine if larval abundances in the spawning area significantly changed over the past three decades, a plankton trawl sampling survey for anguillid leptocephali was conducted in March and April 2011 in the spawning area of the European eel that was designed to directly compare to collections made in the same way in 1983 and 1985. The catch rates of most anguilliform leptocephali were lower in 2011, possibly because of the slightly smaller plankton trawl used, but the relative abundances of European eel and American eel, Anguilla rostrata, leptocephali were much lower in 2011 than in 1983 and 1985 when compared to catches of other common leptocephali. The leptocephali assemblage was the same in 2011 as in previous years, but small larvae of mesopelagic snipe eels, Nemichthys scolopaceus, which spawn sympatrically with anguillid eels, were less abundant. Temperature fronts in the spawning area were also poorly defined compared to previous years. Although the causes for low anguillid larval abundances in 2011 are unclear, the fact that there are presently fewer European and American eel larvae in the spawning area than during previous time periods indicates that decreased larval abundance and lower eventual recruitment begin within the spawning area.


Anguilliformes Anguillidae Spawning area Eel larvae Population declines 



We thank the captain and crew of the R/V Walther Herwig III for assistance during the cruise and the other scientists and technicians, Tagried Kurwie, Manfred Trenk, Tina Blancke, and Olav Giere, who helped sort the IKMT plankton samples and provide other types of assistance. This study was financed by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Reinhold Hanel
    • 1
  • Daniel Stepputtis
    • 2
  • Sylvain Bonhommeau
    • 3
  • Martin Castonguay
    • 4
  • Matthias Schaber
    • 5
  • Klaus Wysujack
    • 1
  • Michael Vobach
    • 1
  • Michael J. Miller
    • 6
    • 7
  1. 1.Thünen Institute of Fisheries EcologyHamburgGermany
  2. 2.Thünen Institute of Baltic Sea FisheriesRostockGermany
  3. 3.Center of Mediterranean and Tropical ResearchIfremerSèteFrance
  4. 4.Fisheries and Oceans CanadaInstitut Maurice-LamontagneMont-JoliCanada
  5. 5.Thünen Institute of Sea FisheriesHamburgGermany
  6. 6.Atmosphere and Ocean Research InstituteThe University of TokyoKashiwaJapan
  7. 7.College of Bioresource SciencesNihon UniversityFujisawaJapan

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