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Conger eel

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Common name: Conger eel

Latin name: Conger conger

Record weight: Big congers are almost a different species to their smaller brothers and sisters and most big fish are caught by anglers specifically targeting them. This has led to the development of a small band of highly dedicated conger fanatics who each year catch some truly monster eels. The current boat record is a huge fish of 133lb 4oz with fish over eighty pounds caught most years. The shore record is 68lb 8oz and could be one record that a sustained campaign could crack wide open.

Distribution: Congers are very widely distributed and can be found from the coast of Africa to Iceland. Eels tend to prefer deeper water and are mainly found in water more than 30m deep from the shore and 50m deep from the boat. Small eels can be very common over rough ground in relatively shallow water and as these fish are incredibly adept at making the most of their environment, they can often be found hanging around docks and marinas where scraps of food get washed into the water. Mainly found over broken ground, small eels are less discerning in their choice of habitat. Many of the largest eels are caught from deep water wrecks.

Features: Conger eels are difficult to confuse with other species of fish. It differs from the freshwater eel in having a slightly longer lower jaw and a dorsal fin that starts closer to the head than that of the freshwater eel. The warm water moray eel is also caught from time to time, although this is a mottled fish with a pointed face, very different from the steely grey of the conger.

Diet: Eels will eat just about anything, although like all fish they prefer live or freshly killed prey. The bulk of the diet of large congers is made up of small fish, from cod and hake in deep water to mackerel and herring in shallow water. Smaller eels eat more crustaceans and have a habit of stealing crabs and lobsters from fishermen's pots, not something that makes them particularly popular!

Spawning: Like the freshwater eel, congers undergo considerable morphological changes prior to spawning. When the urge to spawn overtakes them, the female eels stop feeding, their gut starts to break down and the skeleton weakens as they use up vital nutrients. The fish then begin the long migration to the spawning grounds between the Azores and Gibraltar. Arriving in the early Summer, the eels spawn in incredibly deep water, often down to 4,000m, which is only possible because eels do not have a swimbladder. Each female can lay several million eggs, which slowly rise to the surface. The leaf-shaped larvae then spend the next two years close to the surface before metamorphosing into the adult form and migrating to the sea bed.


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