Eel is the most popular and most consumed freshwater fish in the Netherlands. This healthy delicacy is available at every fishmonger’s shop or fish stall: smoked filleted eel, delicious on toast, on a sandwich, or just on the go.
In this article, we will mention various types of eel, but we will mainly discuss the already well-known European eel, so that you as a buyer will know everything there is to know about this popular product.
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There is no doubt that the eel is a popular fish species. However, where does this eccentric, snake-like fish come from?
Eels can be split up into two families. The common eel, which we know as eel or European eel, belong to the Anguilla anguilla family and the sea eel, also known as conger, belongs to the Congridae family. Sea eels are saltwater fish and therefore only live in the sea. In the Netherlands, conger eels are only occasionally caught for consumption.
Both conger eels and common eels have a long, snake-like body with a long dorsal fin. The body shape of the eel is very characteristic, making it easy to distinguish this fish from others. Eels can live outside the water for up to 24 hours, allowing them to travel short distances over (wet) land, wriggling like snakes.
The eel is a night predator, and during the day, it likes to hide in sheltered places, such as muddy river beds, between the reeds or behind dams and weirs. They prefer to look for shipwrecks or mussel beds in the sea. Eels love oxygen-rich water.
People often speak of wild eel or farmed eel but actually, this is incorrect. As it turns out, eels have an extraordinary property; they don’t allow themselves to be bred (yet). They are unable to reproduce in captivity. Therefore, farmed eels are in fact also wild eels: the eel is caught in the wild at a young age and then fattened for consumption. A young eel is also known as a glass eel.
The difference between farmed eels and wild eels is not only in their appearance but also in the way they taste. Wild eels are darker and sometimes greener than farmed eels, and they also have much thinner skin. Wild eel is less suitable for filleting once smoked and is usually eaten directly from the bone. This fish is a little softer and can have a slightly earthy taste.
Farmed eels, on the other hand, are very suitable for smoking and filleting. Mooijer-Volendam sells freshly smoked and filleted eel in assorted packaging.
Check out all our smoked eel products here
The European eel is the eel we know in the Netherlands. This European eel is found in Dutch waters, among other places, but did not originate in Europe. Every wild European eel is born in the Sargasso Sea. The young glass eels then travel to Europe using the sea currents, and once here, they search for freshwater. The eels travel countless kilometres for this: in three years, they swim up to 6000 kilometres.
However, it doesn’t stop there. When the eels are mature and have accumulated enough fat, they will travel the 6000 kilometres once again, returning to their birthplace, the salty Sargasso Sea, to spawn here. They only do this once in their lives. Sexually mature eels are also known as silver eels.
The European eel is also the most commonly farmed fish in the Netherlands. The young eel or glass eel is caught at sea and then raised in closed recirculation systems. Some are reintroduced into freshwater to support eel stocks in inland waters.
The American eel and Japanese eel have the same characteristics as the European eel. They are born in the sea, migrate to rivers as glass eels and spend most of their lives in freshwater. Once matured, they return to saltwater to reproduce.
The IJsselmeer eel is a wild eel exclusively caught in the IJsselmeer. Due to strict rules, it is fished less than before, making it a seasonal product. In winter, the eels hibernate in deep muddy waters. Only in spring, when the temperatures rise, do the eels emerge again.
The delicious, fatty IJsselmeer eel is therefore only available in the summer. Due to the exceptional quality and the fact that it can only be caught during a short period, the IJsselmeer eel is often much more expensive than a farmed eel.
Wild IJsselmeer eel is not only fattier than farmed eel but generally also less rigid. The IJsselmeer eel is mainly used in stews, baked fresh or smoked in a large barrel. On summer days, when the weather is good, the smoking of eel becomes a pleasant affair.
The IJsselmeer eel for stewing is also known as stewing eel. In Volendam, this famous delicacy is named ‘Rechtop in ’t pannetje‘ (literally: “upright in the pan”), referring to the pieces of eel positioned upright next to each other in the pan. The pieces of stewing eel are sprinkled with salt and pepper and stewed in butter. Vinegar is added at the last minute to make sure the eel doesn’t stick to the pan.
Being the most popular and most consumed freshwater fish in the Netherlands also has its downsides. In the past 50 years, eel stock in the Netherlands has deteriorated considerably for various reasons.
The popularity of the eel is not the only cause of this problem. Eels are migration animals that migrate from saltwater to freshwater and back again. The many dams and floodgates in our Dutch delta system prevent them from doing so. The body of an eel – sometimes up to a metre in length – also makes it vulnerable, for example, to hydroelectric turbines or ship propellers.
We have been working hard on restoring eel stocks since 2007. Firstly, by reducing the fishing of eel. Efforts are being made to improve the habitat of the eel. For example, by removing migration barriers such as pumping stations and floodgates so the eel can migrate and by creating eel-friendly reserves. Efforts are also being made to support the eel population by breeding and partially reintroducing young glass eels into inland waters.
As humanity has the ability to find a solution to every problem, the Netherlands is a pioneer in the production of glass eels from eel larvae bred in-house (aquaculture). The aim is to achieve a healthy eel population and ensure the return of this delicious delicacy, a fascinating fish with a rich cultural history. Glasaal Volendam is a major player in these developments. Every day, we work hard at making the commercial production of glass eel a success. This way, we are no longer dependent on the wild eel population and, in the process, saving the eel from extinction.
The eel has proven to be a unique fish. Still, there are many facts about the eel that most people do not know. Below, we have listed some interesting facts for you.
The average length of a male eel is 35 centimetres; females are on average 50 centimetres in length.
That was a female eel, of course. The longest male eel was 1.22 metres.
Imagine encountering that eel while swimming!
The oldest known eel in the world died in 2014. It lived in a watering well in a town called Brantevik, in the south of Sweden. The oldest eel in The Netherlands reached the age of 88.
An eel has a heart behind its front fins and just behind the last vertebra in its tail.
That allows them to cover short distances over (wet) land.
Like a dog, an eel can smell a million times better than a human. As a result, young glass eels smaller than 6 centimetres can already smell where they have to go to reach freshwater.
Eels have small scales embedded within their thick skin so that they have a smooth and slippery surface. They cannot be seen with the naked eye, and that’s why most people don’t know this.
Discover the full range of eel products from Mooijer-Volendam
Are you looking for good quality eel products? Then you’ve come to the right place. As a wholesaler, Mooijer-Volendam sets high standards for its quality, as do we with all our eel products. Our clients can rely on our AAA product quality; something that our clients also demand from us.
That is why more and more customers know how to find us as a catering wholesaler or as a wholesaler for fishmongers, speciality stores and large retailers.
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