Helping eels flourish in Gippsland

In the current drought conditions, releases of water for the environment help keep our rivers flowing and play a vital role in the lives of local eels.

Each year, late summer and early autumn mark the start of an incredible migration story. Mature eels, which live in the fresh water of our rivers, begin to travel downstream towards the Gippsland Lakes.

“Our autumn environmental flow releases support the migration for eels, by providing enough water for them to travel downstream to the ocean,” said West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority’s Environmental Water Officer, Adrian Clements.

Eels might not be the most glamorous of water creatures, but they are extremely resourceful. Natural and man-made barriers are not an obstacle, as eels can travel on land, down spillways, through stormwater grates and even scale concrete walls.

After massing in the Lakes, by May the eels have set out to sea. The journey takes the eels back to where they were spawned, which is believed to be deep in the Coral Sea in the South Pacific Ocean. These intrepid creatures can travel up to 4000 kilometres on their quest.

“We know that eels only spawn once in their lifetime, producing up to 20 million eggs before dying,” said Adrian.

“It’s vital to the species’ survival that they are able to travel down the rivers, to the Gippsland Lakes and then out into the ocean.”

Once the eels reach the open ocean, there is very little information about their behaviour, but researchers believe they travel deep in the ocean before spawning and dying

The larvae are then carried by the currents back to our shores.

“When the larvae reach the coast, they transform into transparent baby glass eels and travel back to the Gippsland Lakes and rivers,” explained Adrian.

Once the baby eels reach the Gippsland Lakes, they become darker in colour and then migrate upstream to feed and mature. They live in the rivers for ten to twenty years, before starting on their own journey to spawn in the ocean.

The Victorian Fisheries Authority say seasonal factors strongly affect commercial eel production, and because of drought conditions, there has been relatively low production for more than a decade.

“The impact of drought is similar in the wild population,” Adrian said.

“Hopefully, as our water for the environment releases coincide with the start of the eel migration, it will help maintain the eel population numbers, as well as contributing to the overall health of the river.”

Find out more about the benefits of Water for the Environment on our website at https://www.wgcma.vic.gov.au/our-region/waterways/environmental-water

Details of current water releases: https://www.wgcma.vic.gov.au/our-region/waterways/current-environmental-water-releases

Eel
This giant eel, measuring 120cm was recently caught in Traralgon Creek.
Boy holding eel
This enormous 120cm long eel was caught by keen fisherman Jake in the Traralgon Creek.