How Big is an Eel?

When I was reading about American eels recently, I started to wonder what the average sizes of these animals are. 

So, I did some more research to find out how big American eels really are.

How Big Is an Eel?

The American eel can actually grow to be up to at least four feet long. Four feet is on the larger end of the spectrum, most American eels will grow to be somewhere around three feet long. Across all populations of American eels though, the females do grow to be much larger than males.

An interesting image comes to mind when the long, slimy, four-foot-long American eel is brought up. 

However, there are a few more important nuances that come with the American eel besides the simple fact the length they can potentially grow into.

Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about American eel sizes.

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More About How Big American Eel is!

Due to the fact that the number of eels in American waters has been declining in recent years, many fisheries in America list them as unsustainable and some fisheries have even banned the fishing of American eel overall.

This is a result of various factors such as invasive species competing for their food sources, as well as dams and other human constructions that inhibit their ability migrate and spawn freely as they normally would.

Individual states usually have their own rules when it comes to fishing eel.

Before fishing for eel in any area, you should always do research about the specific laws in your state. 

However, you can get a general idea of what kind of limits might be in place by reading the chart below.

State Limits On Fishing For Eel:

  • The time of year you are allowed to catch eel.
  • The bag limit (the maximum number of individual fish legally harvested per harvester per day).
  • The minimum size you are allowed to catch and take home an eel.

Fish Rules, which details the rules and regulations around fishing, lists specific rules for the 10 states where American eel is most like to reside and be caught, such as Maryland, New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut and more.

For all of the states listed on Fish Rules, eel must be at minimum nine inches to be taken out of the water, although this average may vary between other locations.

The Average Size of The American Eel

The average size of an American eel can range from two inches to well over three feet long. 

At maximum, the eels will grow to be four to five feet long. No matter where you go to find your eel, the female eels will always grow to be much larger than the male eels.

On average, the male American eel will grow to be about two feet in length and the females will grow to be from three to five feet long. 

There are several size milestones that each individual will reach over the course of their life cycle.

These milestones include the larvae, or glass eel, stage after being hatched from their eggs inside the ocean, to the silver eel, or adult stage, or being completely mature and grown to full capacity.

The steps that come in between the glass and silver eel phases include the elver and yellow eel stages. 

Throughout each step of their lives, American eels grow in size and weight, change appearance, and take on a gender assignment.

To give you an idea of how long an American eel is, take a look at the chart below to discover a comparison between the fish and some common species of snakes.

American Eel Lengths Vs Snake Species:

  • American eel: 2 to 5 feet
  • Hognose snake: 2.5 feet
  • Copperhead snake: 3 feet
  • Common water snake: 3 feet
  • Cottonmouth snake: 4 feet
  • Western diamondback snake: 5 feet
  • Black rat snake: 5.5 feet

There are a few different factors that can contribute to the size of an American eel. 

These can be the amount of food available; if there is not a sufficient amount of food available for the eel, such as the insects, fish, fish eggs, crabs, worms, clams and frogs the eel is accustomed to eating, then it will not be able to reach his full size.

The environment that the eel is in may also have to do with its size. 

The amount of pollution in the environment may also be a contributing factor.

Just like any other animal, if the eel is unable to grow up in a healthy environment that supports its needs for survival, then it cannot mature to its full adult length and may likely die before reaching its full size.

Threats to The American Eel

Although there are regulations placed on fishing American eel, such as size limitations along with attempts to find solutions for the declining population, the truth of the matter is that the population of American eel continues to decline due to a variety of additional factors.

American Eel Threats:

  • Competitive species that steal food sources
  • Dams in the water
  • Human constructions in bodies of water
  • Asian parasites
  • Increase in eel fishing

These factors include invasive species that compete for their food sources, as well as dams and other human constructions that inhibit their ability to migrate throughout their life cycle. 

Migration periods are critical times for American eels, because this is when they reproduce in the ocean before their lives end.

American eels also no longer have access to their historical habitat. 

This has to do with dams and other obstructions in rivers that block the eels natural migration patterns.

An Asian parasite, also known as Anguillicola crassus, was likely introduced into the range of the American eel through aquaculture practices. 

This parasite infests some eels’ swim bladders, which is an important internal gas-filled organ that regulates a fish’s buoyancy.

Due to the fact that the eels go to the Sargasso Sea to spawn toward the end of their life cycles, the parasite can cause the eel to die before even getting there, which will cut down the eel population significantly by default.

Fishing pressure has caused some strain on the eel population, especially glass eels.

Glass eels were heavily harvested in the United States in the 70s and may have contributed to regionally recognizable declines. The eel has a slow maturation process, so harvest can be especially detrimental to their population.

Related Questions

Does eel size matter when eating them?

If you plan on eating an eel, the size might really be all up to personal preference. There are a variety of ways to cook an American eel, these include smoking it, grilling, baking, frying, and jellied eel. The size of

How should eel be properly cleaned and prepared for cooking?

In order to properly clean and prepare an eel for cooking, the scales will need to be removed from the body. Once the skin has been stripped from the eel, it must be cut opened, gutted, and cleaned thoroughly, due to the fact that raw eel blood is highly poisonous to humans.

How is eel cooked before eating?

Usually, people will smoke eel by hanging it vertically, but this does not require a particular size. With other cooking methods, the eel is cooked horizontally, but more than likely you will be cutting the eel into smaller pieces using these methods so it really would not matter how big the eel is.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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