Longfin Eel (2020)

Anguilla reinhardtii

  • Karina Hall (NSW Department of Primary Industry)
  • Steven Brooks (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland)
  • Victorian Fisheries Authority (Victorian Fisheries Authority)
  • Klaas Hartmann (University of Tasmania)

Date Published: June 2021

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Longfin Eel occurs along the entire eastern Australian coastline, from Cape York Peninsula to TAS, and is also found on Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands. Genetic studies indicate a single biological stock for eastern Australia, but, due to the absence of a cross-jurisdictional stock assessment, the species is assessed here at the jurisdictional level. Longfin Eel is classified as undefined in QLD, and sustainable in NSW, VIC, and TAS.

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Stock status Indicators
Queensland Queensland Undefined

Catch, Effort, CPUE

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Stock Structure

The Longfin Eel has a wide species distribution that extends the entire eastern Australian coast from Cape York to Tasmania, and is also found at Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island [Beumer and Sloane 1990]. The stock structure was investigated via a microsatellite genetic study, and the results indicated a single panmictic biological stock along the east coast [Shen and Tzeng 2007]. However, there is currently no cross-jurisdictional stock assessment undertaken for the shared stock, so this assessment of stock status is presented at the jurisdictional level—New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria

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Stock Status


Anguillid eels in Queensland are represented by three species, the Southern Shortfin Eel (Anguilla australis), Pacific Shortfin Eel (A. obscura) and the Longfin Eel (A. reinhardtii). All three are restricted to rivers flowing east of the Great Dividing Range. South-eastern Queensland is considered the northern extent of the distribution of Southern Shortfin Eel, the Pacific Shortfin Eel is restricted to North Queensland and the Longfin Eel is common throughout eastern drainages of Queensland. The target species in the Queensland commercial eel fishery is predominantly the Longfin Eel. The Southern Shortfin Eel is also targeted but numbers captured are negligible.

These species are not key recreational targets. Creel surveys to determine recreational angler participation and catch within Queensland were undertaken in 2000, 2010, 2014 and 2019 [Henry and Lyle 2003, Webley et al. 2015, Teixeira et al. 2021]. Estimates from these surveys for catch, harvest, and numbers of eels released suggest a progressive decline in catch but also in angler effort. Changes in angler attitudes have also resulted in a decrease in the percentage harvested from 44 per cent in 2000 [Henry and Lyle 2003] to 7.5 per cent and then insignificant numbers in 2010 and 2014 respectively [Webley et al. 2015]. Harvest was estimated at 7 766 ± 2 728 [Henry and Lyle 2003] and 2 306 ± 1 075 individual eels [Taylor et. al 2012]. Subsequent estimates in 2000, 2010 and 2014 are considered unreliable [Webley et al. 2015]. Too few eels were reported in the 2019 survey to provide estimates with any confidence [Teixeira et al. 2021]. 

The Queensland commercial eel fishery consists of two separate fisheries, adults and juveniles. The adult eel fishery has been managed as a closed fishery (closed to new applicants) since 1999. Current licences are non-transferable, they cannot be bought, sold or leased. This is the major input control on the fishery, as well as the restrictions on trapping areas, limited number of traps allowed for use in each area, and a minimum size limit. The juvenile eel fishery targets glass eels and elvers. These may be sold to authorised aquaculture enterprises in Australia for on-growing only. The export of juvenile eels is not permitted. There are presently 14 eel and 12 juvenile eel licences in Queensland.

The commercial harvest of eels fluctuated widely with effort through the 90s peaking at 50 t in 2002 and decreasing to only 3 t in 2019 with only three active licences fishing 106 days. The catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) has remained stable since 2007 at an average of 32.4 kg per day, though prior to 2007 the average catch rate was 164.2 kg per day.

The glass eel fishery was established in 2006 and developed rapidly with a total harvest of 582 kg in 2007, this was followed by a similarly rapid decline culminating in no harvest in 2014 and 2016 to 2018. The 2019 harvest (490 kg) may indicate an upturn in demand in the aquaculture industry for these species. Likewise, the CPUE for juvenile eels was historically stable at approximately 1 kg per day but increased to more than 13 kg per day in 2019.

The above evidence indicates that the current level of fishing pressure is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment overfished. However, the recently reported increases in catch of juvenile eels may cause growth overfishing if similar levels of effort occur at the recent CPUE across the latent effort in this fishery. There is insufficient evidence to confidently classify this stock. 

On the basis of the evidence provided above, Longfin Eel in Queensland is classified as an undefined stock.

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[Walsh et al. 2003, 2004]

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
Longfin Eel

Females: 52 years, 165 cm; Males: 22 years, 62 cm

Size at migration: females 74–142 cm; males 44–62 cm

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Fishing methods
Fish Trap
Hook and Line
Management methods
Method Queensland
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Size limits
Spatial closures
Gear restrictions
Possession limit
Size limit
Commercial 6.05t
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational Unknown

New South Wales – Recreational (catch totals) Estimate from Murphy et al. [2020], based on a survey of Recreational Fishing Licence households.

New South Wales – Indigenous (management methods) https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fishing/aboriginal-fishing).

Queensland – Indigenous (management methods) for more information see https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/business-priorities/fisheries/traditional-fishing

Victoria – Indigenous (Management Methods) A person who identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is exempt from the need to obtain a Victorian recreational fishing licence, provided they comply with all other rules that apply to recreational fishers, including rules on equipment, catch limits, size limits and restricted areas. Traditional (non-commercial) fishing activities that are carried out by members of a traditional owner group entity under an agreement pursuant to Victoria’s Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 are also exempt from the need to hold a recreational fishing licence, subject to any conditions outlined in the agreement. Native title holders are also exempt from the need to obtain a recreational fishing licence under the provisions of the Commonwealth’s Native Title Act 1993.

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Catch Chart

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  1. Australian Survey Research 2012, Improving Inland Recreational Fishing Survey Report. DPI: Fisheries Victoria. Australian Survey Research Group Pty Ltd, Ormond, Victoria. 89 pp.
  2. Australian Survey Research Group Pty Ltd, September 2018, Victorian Fisheries Authority Recreational Fishing Survey 2018
  3. Beumer, J, and Sloane, R, 1990, Distribution and abundance of glass-eels Anguilla spp. in east Australian waters. Internationale Revue der gesamten Hydrobiologie und Hydrographie 75: 721-736
  4. Hall, KC, 2020, Status of Australian Fish Stocks 2020 - NSW Stock status summary - Longfin Eel (Anguilla reinhardtii), NSW Department of Primary Industries, Coffs Harbour.
  5. Head, L 1989, Prehistoric Aboriginal impacts on Australian vegetation: an assessment of the evidence. Australian Geographer 20(1): 37-46.
  6. Henry, GW and Lyle, JM 2003, The national recreational and indigenous fishing survey. Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Canberra, ACT
  7. Hoyle, SD, and Jellyman, DJ 2002, Longfin eels need reserves: modelling the effects of commercial harvest on stocks of New Zealand eels. Marine and Freshwater Research 53: 887-895.
  8. Inland Fisheries Service, Tasmanian Inland Recreational Fishery Management Plan 2018-28
  9. Murphy, JJ, Ochwada-Doyle, FA, West, LD, Stark, KE and Hughes, JM, 2020, The NSW Recreational Fisheries Monitoring Program - survey of recreational fishing, 2017/18. Fisheries Final Report Series No. 158.
  10. Pease, BC 2004, Description of the biology and an assessment of the fishery for adult longfinned eels in NSW. FRDC Final Report for Project No. 98/127. NSW Department of Primary Industries, Cronulla, New South Wales, 167 pp.
  11. Purser, J., Cooper, P., Diggle, J., Ibbott, T. Tasmanian Eel Industry Development and Management Plan, FRDC Project No 2012/208
  12. Richards, T, 2011, A late nineteenth-century map of an Australian Aboriginal fishery at Lake Condah. Australian Aboriginal Studies 2:64-87.
  13. Schnierer, S and Egan, H, 2016, Composition of the Aboriginal harvest of fisheries resources in coastal New South Wales, Australia. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 26:693-709.
  14. Shen, K-N, and Tzeng, W-N, 2007, Population genetic structure of the year-round spawning tropical eel, Anguilla reinhardtii, in Australia. Zoological studies 46: 441-453.
  15. Taylor, S, Webley, J and McInnes, K 2012, 2010 Statewide recreational fishing survey. Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane, Queensland
  16. Teixeira, D, Janes, R, and Webley, J 2021, 2019–20 Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey Key Results. Project Report. State of Queensland, Brisbane.
  17. Victorian Fisheries Authority 2017, Review of key Victorian fish stocks — 2017 Victorian Fisheries Authority Science Report Series No. 1.
  18. Walsh, CT, Pease, BC, and Booth, DJ 2003, Sexual dimorphism and gonadal development of the Australian longfinned river eel. Journal of Fish Biology 63(1): 137-152.
  19. Walsh, CT, Pease, BC, and Booth, DJ 2004, Variation in the sex ratio, size and age of longfinned eels within and among coastal catchments of southeastern Australia. Journal of Fish Biology 64: 1297-1312
  20. Webley, J, McInnes, K, Teixeira, D, Lawson, A and Quinn, R 2015, Statewide recreational fishing survey 2013–14. Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane, Queensland

Downloadable reports

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