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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2020

Assessment of the quality of European silver eels and tentative approach to trace the origin of contaminants – A European overview

Bourillon, Bastien; Acou, Anthony; Trancart, Thomas; Belpaire, Claude; Covaci, Adrian; Bustamante, Paco; Faliex, Elisabeth; Amilhat, Elsa; Malarvannan, Govinda; Virag, Laure; Aarestrup, Kim; Bervoets, Lieven; Boisneau, Catherine; Boulenger, Clarisse; Gargan, Patrick G.; Becerra-Jurado, Gustavo; Lobón-Cerviá, Javier; Maes, Gregory E; Ingemann Pedersen, Michael; Poole, Russel;
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The European eel is critically endangered. Although the quality of silver eels is essential for their reproduction, little is known about the effects of multiple contaminants on the spawning migration and the European eel management plan does not take this into account. To address this knowledge gap, we sampled 482 silver eels from 12 catchments across Europe and developed methods to assess three aspects of eel quality: muscular lipid content (N = 169 eels), infection with Anguillicola crassus (N = 482), and contamination by persistent organic pollutants (POPs, N = 169) and trace elements (TEs, N = 75). We developed a standardized eel quality risks index (EQR) using these aspects for the subsample of 75 female eels. Among 169 eels, 33% seem to have enough muscular lipids content to reach the Sargasso Sea to reproduce. Among 482 silver eels, 93% were infected by A. crassus at least once during their lifetime. All contaminants were above the limit of quantification, except the 1,2-bis(2,4,6-tribromophenoxy)ethane (BTBPE), Ag and V. The contamination by POPs was heterogeneous between catchments while TEs were relatively homogeneous, suggesting a multi-scale adaptation of management plans. The EQR revealed that eels from Warwickshire were most impacted by brominated flame-retardants and agricultural contaminants, those from Scheldt were most impacted by agricultural and construction activities, PCBs, coal burning, and land use, while Frémur eels were best characterized by lower lipid contents and high parasitic and BTBPE levels.

There was a positive correlation between EQR and a human footprint index highlighting the capacity of silver eels for biomonitoring human activities and the potential impact on the suitability of the aquatic environment for eel population health. EQR therefore represents a step forward in the standardization and mapping of eel quality risks, which will help identify priorities and strategies for restocking freshwater ecosystems.


Lipid energy; Anguillicola crassus; Pollution; Bioaccumulation; Bioindicators; Management

Published in

Science of the Total Environment
2020, volume: 743, article number: 140675

Authors' information

Bourillon, Bastien
National Museum of Natural History (MNHN)
Acou, Anthony
National Museum of Natural History (MNHN)
Trancart, Thomas
National Museum of Natural History (MNHN)
Belpaire, Claude
Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO)
Covaci, Adrian
University of Antwerp
Bustamante, Paco
The National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS)
Faliex, Elisabeth
University of Perpignan
Amilhat, Elsa
University of Perpignan
Malarvannan, Govinda
University of Antwerp
Virag, Laure
National Museum of Natural History (MNHN)
Aarestrup, Kim
Technical University of Denmark (DTU)
Bervoets, Lieven
University of Antwerp
Boisneau, Catherine
University of Tours
Boulenger, Clarisse
National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE)
Gargan, Patrick G.
Inland Fisheries Ireland
Becerra-Jurado, Gustavo
Inland Fisheries Ireland
Lobón-Cerviá, Javier
National Museum of Natural Sciences (MNCN-CSIC)
Maes, Gregory E
University of Leuven (KU Leuven)
Ingemann Pedersen, Michael
Technical University of Denmark (DTU)
Poole, Russel
Marine Institute
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Sustainable Development Goals

SDG14 Life below water

UKÄ Subject classification

Fish and Wildlife Management
Fish and Aquacultural Science

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