Tuesday 2 June 2009

Slippery customers ....

The slippery eel – of which so little is known – having become tagged is about to disclose its whereabouts on the ocean floor. 

Distribution and size of Leptocephali Larvae of
the European Eel, Anguilla anguilla c/o Wikipedia
Amazingly Aristotle back in 234 BC was perplexed as to how they reproduced and up until the 20th century we weren’t sure (even Sigmund Freud did some research .. but gave up!). In the late 1700s it was confirmed that eels were actually fish .. at least that was a start ...

In the very late 1800s it was only realised that eels needed both fresh water and sea water during their life cycle. After this in 1922 it was found that the eels were travelling further and further across the Atlantic Ocean until the smallest eel-larvae were caught off Bermuda in the Sargasso Sea (that barren, windless, weed-filled area of the Atlantic Ocean), postulating the theory that this was the eels breeding ground – how they swam 4,000+ miles is another mystery.

Distribution and size of Leptocephali Larvae of the
American eel, Anguilla rostrata - c/o Wikipedia
Eels are known to travel huge distances in their life cycle .. from Bulgaria in the old Eastern Europe, through the Baltic Sea swimming north using the Scottish sea trenches, or south via the English Channel. 

There are shoals of eels all over Europe – Scandinavia, France, England and Ireland ... which stir in November from their resting places – river beds, lake bottoms and marshlands around Europe, heeding the ancient call to breed.

These slippery silver serpents grow in strength and size, some to lengths over four feet, before undertaking the daunting journey travelling overland through muddy rivulets, down streams, into rivers heeding the call of the ocean. 

They will take the ‘easiest’ route to their spawning grounds .. using the currents to make their journey more efficient, rather than perhaps the shortest route.

This explains their migration north through the Scottish trenches, though plenty still use the English Channel, all traversing the deep ocean trenches, crossing the undersea mountain ranges and gliding over the continental shelf. 

Their journey can be 4,000 to 4,500 miles, exceeding the1,800 mile migration of the Atlantic salmon, but dwarfed by the grey whale’s journey of up to 12,500 miles from Baja California to the Bering Straits. (the world’s longest animal migration).

Glass Eel
These larvae that make this three year migration back to the rivers, turning into glass eels along the way, then adapt to the fresh water by metamorphosing into elvers; their journey up streams, across wet lands to the head waters seem to colonise many continental rivers. 

They can live for ten – fourteen years, though some have been found to live for considerably longer. When they’re ready to breed ... the call of the sea lures them and they begin their long journey yet again towards the Sargasso Sea.

No wonder little has been known about these slippery creatures .. as each life cycle so little resembles the previous one .. and what a journey they make.

Eel and Pie House
There’s a huge market for eels – both here in Europe, in Americas for the American eel, and in Japan and China. I certainly forget ... or just simply don’t know ... how many diverse markets there are ... I certainly wouldn’t have put the European eel market at Euro 200 million ($283m) a year!

The populations of eels are fast disappearing and no-one is exactly sure why – disease, man-made developments, over fishing etc .. but the $ market per kilo is like the gold rush or the oil price ... going up exponentially and moving the markets from Europe to America and Asia. It seems the eels are generating a similar fervour as grips the King Crab season in the Bering Sea.

Eels were popular with the Romans and widely eaten during the Middle Ages, while jellied eels were a staple for the poor, particularly in London, in the 18th Century; Eel Pie and Mash houses sprang up to satisfy the hunger of the working Londoners.

One of the islands in the Thames, up river in the borough of Twickenham became known as Eel Pie Island - the island being used as a pleasure resort for boating parties and visitors; the eel pies served became famous and led to the renaming of the island, but as the eels declined due to pollution in the Thames in the 1800s .. so did the pie production!

Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703) in his Diary describes his whip thus: “With my salt eele, went down in the parler, and there got my boy and did beat him”- eel skins were used for whips. However ‘eel-skins’ were known in old slang for very tight trousers or tightly fitting frocks .. they’re sometimes still described as such.

I just find it interesting how eels have been eaten throughout the world and throughout the ages and how customs and traditions have grown up around them .. and yet how little we knew about these slippery customers until very recently.

Just as a small PS ... I've mentioned King John in another recent post (Magna Carta) .. well in the year 1213 the following were ordered for his Christmas feast: about 3,000 capons, 1,000 salted eels, 400 hogs, 100 pounds of almonds and 24 casks of wine - I wonder how many guests he had?!

Dear Mr Postman today is a day for slippery customers .. information and snippets that my mother enjoyed .. my brother cooked eel for me on one of my trips back from South Africa .. and I have to say it was not a meal I particularly enjoyed, however some love it, .. but perhaps if I'd been able to give the eel the credit it deserves for its life .. I'd have relished it more!

Thank you for visiting .. my mother will enjoy being reminded of our lunch that day .. I seem to think we were both surprised at the choice of eel .. it is very rich, and definitely not to everyone's taste .. especially after a long over night flight ....

Hilary Melton-Butcher
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Daphne @ Joyful Days said...


I feel a little guilty about the disappearing eels because I like to eat them Japanese style. Maybe I should stop... It's amazing how you take the time to find out so much about a humble creature like this.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Daphne .. I'm just glad you like them (well some people must .. to sell so many $ worth!) .. is that skewering them out?

Thanks for comment .. I just enjoy the research .. and information seems to spin out at me ..

The slippery eel .. seems to achieve so much .. and travel so far .. that's what's amazing about all creatures .. they seem to have these inbuilt instincts ...

Thanks for enjoying the post -
Hilary Melton-Butcher
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Peter Baca said...

Hi Hilary,

Interesting post on eels! I will have to admit that I do enjoy good seafood...but I have never eaten eel.

Based on your post....a number of different civilizations have enjoyed eel. Apparently, if prepared properly they might be good.

Thanks for your post!

Pete Baca
The Car Enthusiast Online

Giovanna Garcia said...

I am like Daphne, I eat them when ever I have sushi. Sorry little eel :-(
I have no idea they are so amazing. Thank you so much for teach me about them. I wonder if the sushi bar knows as much as you do about eel!?
Giovanna Garcia
Imperfect Action is better than No Action

Marketing Unscrambled, Home edition said...

Hilary, we have not tried eel. thank you for the information.
Dan and Deanna "Marketing Unscrambled"

PS. glad that you liked the videos. We are working on the things that you talked about. Thank you for the comments that you left.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Pete .. yes - it's always surprising that eels and other foods have been around and humans have eaten them since 'human time' began.

From Daphne and Gio .. it seems that it's used in Sushi .. perhaps we've eaten it that way? without realising.

Enjoy it if you try it ..

Thanks - Hilary Melton-Butcher
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Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Gio .. thanks for letting me know that you eat them in Sushi ...

Yes - aren't they amazing fish? I was surprised at their life cycle .. though I'd heard they travelled to the Sargasso Sea ..

I expect the Sushi knows about the cost of eels though!

Glad you enjoyed it ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
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Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Deanna and Dan .. thanks for coming to learn something about eels .. perhaps you'll try them sometime?

Glad my comments re your videos help .. I really liked the ideas and way they were presented ..

Thanks for visiting ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
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Jocelyn at I TAKE OFF THE MASK said...

Thanks for writing this, I've missed eating eels! :-)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jocelyn .. another one who enjoys eating eels! No wonder they cost so much .. perhaps you can get out and have a good dinner sometime?

Thanks for visiting .. I appreciate your comments ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
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Liara Covert said...

Hilary, you do an amazing job with your posts. What an eye for details. You always teach readers something useful they can take away and share. The idea of smoked eel is a popular delicacy and sushi with eel is another treat. As you imply, people are not always aware of the origins of their food. They are often disconnected.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. thanks .. I'm glad you enjoy them and that there's always something to learn and/ or share.

Yes - smoked eel is popular, I hadn't realised Sushi used eel though!.

We forget so much .. and it's good to reconnect in general - there's so much to learn and so much to life ..

It's great to see you here ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
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Believe Achieve - Hugo and Roxanne said...

Hi Hilary,

Wow! Slippery eels are such amazing creatures! It's sad to hear they are disappearing, too.

Hugo took us to a Japanese restuarant for my B-day and I enjoyed BBQed eel. It's one of my favorite dishes. It's great to learn so much about them. :-)

Many Blessings....
Roxanne ~ Believe Achieve

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Roxanne .. glad to see you back .. and thanks for visiting .. great that you had a lovely birthday .. and enjoyed the eels!

Thanks so much and glad you enjoyed the learning ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
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