MEPS 496:145-157 (2014)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10646

Theme Section: Tracking fitness in marine vertebrates

Behaviour of stocked and naturally recruited European eels during migration

Håkan Westerberg1,*, Niklas Sjöberg1,2, Ingvar Lagenfelt3, Kim Aarestrup4, David Righton5

1Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Institute of Freshwater Research, 178 93 Drottningholm, Sweden
2Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
3The County Administrative Board of Västra Götaland, 403 40 Göteborg, Sweden
4Technical University of Denmark (DTU), National Institute of Aquatic Resources, Vejlsøvej 39, 8600 Silkeborg, Denmark
5Centre for Environment, Fisheries, and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), Pakefield Road, Lowestoft NR33 0HT, UK
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: One objection to the stocking of translocated eels as a management measure for the European eel Anguilla anguilla L. is that these eels may lack the ability to find their way back to the spawning area in the Sargasso Sea because the translocation will confuse their imprinted navigation. We undertook a series of tagging experiments using satellite tags, data storage tags and acoustic tags to test the hypothesis that eels translocated 1200 km from the UK to Sweden differed in their ability to migrate compared to naturally recruited eels. Eels to be tagged were caught in 2 locations, one with a record of eel stocking for more than 20 yr and with a series of barriers to upstream migration and another in a river with only natural immigration and without barriers to upstream migration. In the first year, the naturally recruited and stocked eels were released in a fjord where the initial escapement behaviour could be monitored by acoustic tagging in addition to using archival tags to track the subsequent marine migration. In the second year, eels were tagged with archival or satellite tags and released on the open coast, and only their marine migration was investigated. Eels were tracked more than 2000 km along a route that, after leaving the Skagerrak, followed the Norwegian Trench to the Norwegian Sea, turned south and west along the Faroe-Shetland channel before emerging into the Atlantic Ocean, and then continued west. There were no statistically significant differences in estuarine or oceanic behaviour regarding route, swimming speed and preferred swimming depth between stocked and naturally recruited eels. These results provide the first empirical evidence of a Nordic migration route and do not support the hypothesis that a sequential imprinting of the route during immigration is necessary for adequate orientation or behaviour during the adult spawning migration.


KEY WORDS: Eel management plan · Anguilla anguilla · Translocation · North Atlantic · Electronic tags


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Cite this article as: Westerberg H, Sjöberg N, Lagenfelt I, Aarestrup K, Righton D (2014) Behaviour of stocked and naturally recruited European eels during migration. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 496:145-157. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10646

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