Roughly 150,000 juvenile eels were this week released into the waters around Estonia's two largest islands, Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, in an effort to kick-start a sector which once thrived in the region. Patience is required however, as eels take several years to mature, after which they return to the famed Sargasso Sea whence they came, to spawn.
The €180,000 project, financed by the Ministry of Rural Affairs, hearkens back to a time when Estonia was a major exporter of eel, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Wednesday.
Whereas 100 years ago, Estonia exported close to 200 tonnes of eel, only a fraction of that total – 700kg – were caught in Estonian waters in 2021.
Maidu Silm, an expert in fish science at Tartu's University of Life Sciences, told AK that the young eels: "Had come from the Sargasso Sea over the course of two or three years. Via the currents, they reached a fish farm of the coast of the Netherlands, where they were raised for seven or eight months, while now they have finally arrived here, where they were needed."
The eel will be ready for fishing as mature adults in around five years, AK reported.
The 150,000 eels were released in over a dozen bays around Saaremaa and Hiiumaa; in the case of Saaremaa, Taavo Kuusiku, board member of a local fishing NGO, told AK the 80,000 specimens weigh around 400kg at present – but that will equate to 20-30 tonnes of eel in around seven to nine years' time; even if only half the stock reach maturity, four fishing boats would be needed to catch them all, compared with the two tubs used to distribute the youngsters.
Mature eel will swim back to the Sargasso Sea, in the mid-Atlantic, at around the age of five years, in the case of males, or 10 years in the case of females, and the experts were confident that
Mehis Rohtla, an expert from the University of Tartu's marine institute, said that, transatlantic spawning journeys aside, the bulk of the stock would be likely to stay within around a kilometer of the point at which they were released, with some cases having been observed of a single eel spending its life-span within a radius of a few hundred meters.
The project was funded via the Agricultural Registers and Information Board (PRIA).
Editor: Andrew Whyte