New hope for eel aquaculture

Innovation allows farmers to overcome biggest hurdle in farming this slippery delicacy
Liza Mayer
August 16, 2017
By Liza Mayer
NovaEel CEO Dr Paul Smith expects to begin raising eels as early as 2020, assuming all goes well with regulatory approvals
NovaEel CEO Dr Paul Smith expects to begin raising eels as early as 2020, assuming all goes well with regulatory approvals
The practice of catching juvenile eels from the wild and raising them in farms to adulthood has provided Asian markets with supply of this slippery delicacy, but most eels raised are male, which does not yield enough product to be worthwhile.


An innovation from Nova Scotia, Canada could make this type of eel aquaculture a commercially viable operation by turning male eels into faster-growing and heavier females.

New aquaculture company NovaEel said it has succeeded in turning glass eels into females, and have them stay female in crowded conditions, without risk to human health.

The company, founded by a group of licensed eel fishers and companies from Nova Scotia and Maine, worked with scientists at Dalhousie Medical School to perfect the eel-feminization method.

“We’ve validated a method of feminizing the eels using a form of estrogen known as estradiol, and can confirm this feminization even before the eels develop any visible sexual characteristics,” Dr James Fawcett, a professor in the departments of Pharmacology and Surgery told Dalhousie University’s school paper, Dal News. “Most importantly for human health, we’ve found that the eels’ estradiol levels return to normal in a matter of days, leaving no residue behind in the tissue.”

With the main challenge in eel farming now addressed, the next step for NovaEel is to seek FDA and Health Canada approval for the process and the medication, and then move on to practical matters of raising the female eels, said the university.

NovaEel plans to harvest baby eels in the wild and farm them in low-impact, land-based production facilities. It expects to begin raising eels as early as 2020, assuming all goes well with regulatory approvals, said Dal News.

“Why continue to literally ship our industry’s growth potential to China?” asks Paul Smith, CEO of NovaEel. “We want to capture the potential value of this industry for the Maritime economy by raising the eels for market here. Thanks to our partners at Dalhousie, we expect to be able to do that.”

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