Southern Shortfin Eel, Anguilla australis Richardson 1841


Other Names: Australian Shortfinned Eel, Freshwater Eel, River Eel, Shortfin Eel, Short-fin Eel, Shortfinned Eel, Short-finned Eel, Silver Eel, Yellow Eel

A Southern Shortfin Eel, Anguilla australis. Source: Rudie H. Kuiter / Aquatic Photographics. License: All rights reserved

Summary:

Southern Shortfin Eels have long cylindrical bodies, and continuous dorsal, caudal and anal fins with the dorsal fin originating above or slightly in front of the anal fin. 

Adult Southern Shortfin Eels may spend up to 20 years in freshwater, before migrating to the sea to breed in the Coral Sea. The transparent leaf-like larvae are transported southwards via the East Australian Current, and metamorphose into glass eels before migrating to estuaries in south-eastern Australia. During their migration to freshwater, the young eels are able to climb barriers such as waterfalls and dam walls.

The Southern Shortfin Eel was the basis of an ancient freshwater fishery in the Lake Condah region of south-west Victoria, dating back almost 7000 years. Indigenous Australians, the Gunditjmara people, engineered the landscape to create a very sophisticated aquaculture industry with diversion channels, weirs and stone eel traps. Large Aboriginal communities lived year-round in this ancient volcanic landscape, where they farmed, smoked and traded eels.

Southern Shortfin Eels in Tasmania.

Spotted Galaxias (Galaxias truttaceus), Common Galaxias (Galaxias maculatus), Freshwater Flathead, Tupong (Pseudaphritis urvillii) and Southern Shortfin Eel (Anguilla australis) in Fotheringate Creek, Flinders Island, Tasmania.


Cite this page as:
Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2018, Anguilla australis in Fishes of Australia, accessed 15 Nov 2018, http://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/1423

Southern Shortfin Eel, Anguilla australis Richardson 1841

More Info


Distribution

Found in coastal drainages of eastern Australia, from the Burnett River of southern Queensland, south and westwards to near Mypolonga, Murray River and the Onkaparinga River, South Australia, including the Bass Strait islands and coastal drainages of Tasmania; also Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island in the Tasman Sea. Elsewhere, the species occurs in New Caledonia and New Zealand, including the Chatham Islands.

The species is catadromous (migrates to the sea to spawn), and occurs in a wide variety of habitats including streams, lowland rivers, lakes and swamps, preferring still waters with little flow.

The transparent leptocephalus larvae metamorphose into glass eels before migrating to estuaries and transforming into juvenile eels called elvers.

Features

Pectoral fin 14-16; Vertebrae 109-116.

Body elongate, tubular, snake-like; head moderately small (10-14% SL); eyes small; mouth moderately large, horizontal, reaching to below posterior edge of eyes; teeth fine, in a broad band on each side of both jaws and on the vomer, vomerine patch much shorter than bands laterally in jaws; gill openings small, just in front of lower half of pectoral fin bases.

The tiny scales are elongate, arranged in a basket work pattern and embedded. The lateral line is straight and not associated with scales.

The dorsal, anal and caudal fins are continuous. The dorsal fin originates just in front of, or just behind a vertical line drawn through anus. The pectoral fins are small and fan-like. Pelvic fins are absent.

Size

Although the Southern Shortfin Eel may grow to a maximum total length of 110 cm, most individuals are less than 70 cm. Eels in landlocked populations may grow much larger.

Colour

Adults and elvers are uniformly olive-green on their back and sides, and greyish-white to silvery below; fins same colour as adjacent part of body, except for black pectoral fins in adults returning to the sea.

Leptocephali and glass eels are mostly transparent.

Feeding

A voracious opportunistic nocturnal predator that usually preys on fishes, crustaceans, molluscs and insects.

Biology

Males mature at about 14 years and females at 18-24 years; adults may remain in freshwater environments for 10-20 years or even longer, before migrating to the sea to breed and then die.

Females produce small  pelagic eggs that float upwards toward the surface.

The leaf-like leptocephalus larvae are transparent, elongate and compressed. Leptocephali are believed to be passively transported to the continental shelf by oceanic currents before metamorphosing to the glass eel stage. Leptocephali range from 53-54 mm TL immediately preceding metamorphosis. 

During metamorphosis, a reduction in body length and width and loss of teeth occurs. Early-stage glass eels vary between about 47-73 mm TL. Glass eels move shoreward into estuaries and rivers. During their time spent in estuaries, glass eels acclimate to reduced salinities and develop rapidly into fully pigmented elvers with teeth and stomach development. This is followed by a secondary upstream migration into freshwater.

Fisheries

A small but important commercial fishery exists for the Southern Shortfin Eel in southeastern Australia. Most of the catch is exported overseas, either live, frozen or smoked.

A small aquaculture industry also exists for this species. Glass eels, elvers and sub-adult eels are captured from the wild in Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales, and Queensland, with most of the production occurring in Victoria. Most are taken from Victorian and Tasmanian coastal rivers and they are grown out in the aquaculture industry to a marketable size in lakes, swamps, wetlands and farm dams.

Freshwater eels provide good angling and can be taken on hook and lone. They are thought of as a delicacy in many parts of the world, and considered to be excellent-eating, especially when smoked.

Conservation


Similar Species

Differs from the Longfin Eel, Anguilla reinhardtii, in having a shorter dorsal fin that commences over or just before the anal-fin origin. It also has a uniform coloration vs. the mottled colour pattern of the Longfin Eel.

Species Citation

Anguilla australis Richardson 1841, Proc. Zool. Soc. Lond. 9: 22. Type locality: Port Arthur, Tasmania

Author

Gomon, M.F. & Bray, D.J. 2018

Resources

Atlas of Living Australia 

Australian Faunal Directory

Catalog of Fishes  

Southern Shortfin Eel, Anguilla australis Richardson 1841

References


Allen, G.R. 1989. Freshwater Fishes of Australia. T.F.H. Publications, 240 pp.

Allen, G.R., Midgley, S.H. & M. Allen. 2002. Field Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of Australia. Western Australian Museum, 394 pp.

Aoyama, J., Mochioka, N., Otake, T., Ishikawa, S., Kawakami, Y., Castle, P. & Tsukamoto, K. 1999. Distribution and dispersal of anguillid leptocephali in the western Pacific Ocean revealed by molecular analysis. Marine Ecology Progress Series 188: 193-200.

Beumer, J.P. 1979. Feeding and movement of Anguilla australis and A. reinhardtii in Macleods Morass, Victoria, Australia. J. Fish Biol. 14: 573-592.

Beumer, J.P. 1983. Eels. Victorian Naturist 100: 168-171.

Beumer, J.P. 1996. Freshwater eels. pp. 39-43. In McDowall, R.M. (ed.) Freshwater Fishes of South-eastern Australia. Reed: Sydney, Australia.

Beumer, J. P. & Sloane, R.D. 1990. Distribution and abundance of glass-eels spp. in east Australian waters. Int. Revue ges. Hydrobiol. 75: 721-736.

Beumer, J.P. 1987. Eels : Biology and Control. Queensland Department of Primary Industries Leaflet No. OL87018 4pp.

Beumer, J.P. & Harrington, D.J. 1980. Techniques for collecting glass eels and brown elvers. Aust. Fish. 39: 16-22.

Builth, H.C. 2002. The Archaeology and Socioeconomy of the Gunditjmara: A Landscape Analysis from Southwest Victoria, Australia. Ph.D. Thesis. Flinders University, Adelaide.

Builth, H. 2004. Mt Eccles lava flow and the Gunditjmara connection: a landform for all seasons. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria 116(1): 165-184.

Builth, H. 2009. Eel farmers of the Mount Eccles lava flow. Online at www.heritageaustralia.com.au PDF

Cadwallader, P.L. & G.N. Backhouse. 1983. A guide to the freshwater fish of Victoria. Victoria Government Printing Office. Melbourne: 1-249.

Chilcott, S.J. & P. Humphries. 1996. Freshwater fish of northeast Tasmania with notes on the dwarf galaxias. Records of the Queen Victoria Museum. 103: 145-149.

Crook, D., Macdonald, J., Belcher, C., O’Mahony, D., Dawson, D., Lovett, D., Walker, A. & Bannam, L. (2008) Lake Condah Restoration Project – Biodiversity Assessment. Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research Technical Report Series No. 180. Department of Sustainability and Environment, Heidelberg, Victoria. PDF

Crook, D.A., J.I. MacDonald, J.R. Morrongiello, C.A. Belcher, D. Lovett, A. Walker & S.J. Nicol. 2014. Environmental cues and extended estuarine residence in seaward migrating eels (Anguilla australis). Freshwater Biology 59(8): 1710-1720.Abstract

De Silva, S.S., R.M. Gunasekera & R.O. Collins. 2002. Some morphometric and biochemical features of ready-to-migrate silver and pre-migratory yellow stages of the shortfin eel of south-eastern Australian waters. Journal of Fish Biology 61: 915–928.

Dijkstra, L.H. & D.J. Jellyman. 1999. Is the subspecies classification of the freshwater eels Anguilla australis australis Richardson and A. a. schmidtii Phillipps still valid? Marine and Freshwater Research 50(3) 261–263.

Gomon, M.F. 2008. Family Anguillidae. In Gomon, M.F., D.J. Bray & R.H. Kuiter. Fishes of Australia’s Southern Coast. Reed New Holland.

Hall, D.N., D.J. Harrington and P.S. Fairbrother. 1990. The commercial eel fishery in Victoria. Victorian Department of Conservation and Environment. Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, Technical Report 100. 41 pp.

Hammer, M.P. & K.F. Walker. 2004. A catalogue of South Australian freshwater fishes, including new records, range extensions and translocations. Transactions Royal Society of South Australia 128(2): 85-97.

Jellyman, D.J. 1987. Review of the marine life history of Australasian temperate species of Anguilla. Am. Fish. Soc. Symp. 1: 276-285.

Johnson, J.W. 1999. Annotated checklist of the fishes of Moreton Bay, Queensland, Australia. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 43( 2): 709-762.

Kuiter, R.H. 1993. Coastal Fishes of South-Eastern Australia. Crawford House Press, Bathurst, New South Wales. xxxii + 437 pp.

Larson, H.K. & B. Pidgeon. 2004. New records of freshwater fishes from East Timor. The Beagle, Records of the Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory 20: 195-198.

Lintermans, M. 2007. Fishes of the Murray-Darling Basin: an introductory guide. Murray-Darling Basin Commission, Canberra, 166 pp.

McDowall, R.M., D.J. Jellyman & L.H. Dijkstra. 1998. Arrival of an Australian anguillid eel in New Zealand: an example of transoceanic dispersal. Environmental Biology of Fishes 51: 1-6.

Pease, B.C. & Booth, D.J. 2004. Estuarine habitat preferences of Anguilla australis and A. reinhardtii glass eels as inferred from laboratory experiments. Environmental Biology of Fishes 71(4): 395-402.

Pusey, B.J., M.J. Kennard & A.H. Arthington. 2004. Freshwater Fishes of North-Eastern Australia. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Victoria. 684 pp.

Richardson, J. 1848. In Richardson J. & Gray J.E. (eds) The zoology of the voyage of H.M.S. Erebus and Terror during 1839-43. Part VII. 

Shen, K.N. & W.N. Tzeng. 2007. Genetic differentiation among populations of the shortfinned eel Anguilla australis from East Australia and New Zealand. Journal of Fish Biology 70(Suppl. B): 177–190.

Shiao, J.-C., W.-N. Tzeng, A. Collins & D.J. Jellyman. 2001. Dispersal pattern of glass eel stage of Anguilla australis revealed by otolith growth increments. Marine Ecology Progress Series 219: 241–250.

Silberschneider, V. 2005. Recruitment and age dynamics of Anguilla australis and A. reinhardtii glass eels in the estuaries of New South Wales. PhD thesis, University of Technology Sydney. PDF

Sloane, R.D. 1982. The Tasmanian eel fishery - some facts and figures. Aust. Fish. 41(12): 14-17.

Sloane, R.D. 1984. Distribution and abundance of freshwater eels (Anguilla spp.) in Tasmania. Aust. J. Mar. Freshw. Res. 35(4): 463-470.

Sloane, R.D. 1984. Distribution, abundance, growth and food of freshwater eels (Anguilla spp.) in the Douglas River, Tasmania. Aust. J. Mar. Freshw. Res. 35(3): 325-339.

Sloane, R.D. 1984. Preliminary observations of migrating adult freshwater eels (Anguilla australis australis Richardson) in Tasmania. Aust. J. Mar. Freshw. Res. 35(4): 471-476.

Smith, D.G. 1999 Anguillidae. Freshwater eels. p. 1630-1636. In K.E. Carpenter and V.H. Niem (eds.) FAO species identification guide for fishery purposes. The living marine resources of the Western Central Pacific. Vol. 3. Batoid fishes, chimaeras and bony fishes part 1 (Elopidae to Linophrynidae). FAO, Rome.

Smith, D.G., W. Duiker & I.R.C. Cooke. 1983. Sustained branchial apnea in the Australian short-finned eel, Anguilla australis. J. Exp. Biol. 226: 37-43.

Teng, H.-Y. , Y.-S. Lin & C.-S. Tzeng. 2009. A new Anguilla species and a reanalysis of the phylogeny of freshwater eels. Zoological Studies 46(6): 808-822.

Watanabe, S., J. Aoyama & K. Tsukamoto. 2006. Confirmation of morphological differences between Anguilla australis australis and A. australis schmidtii. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 40: 325–331.

Quick Facts


CAAB Code:37056001

Biology:Migratory - catadromous

Fishing:Commercial species

Habitat:Freshwater/marine larvae

Max Size:110 cm TL

Species Image Gallery

Species Maps

CAAB distribution map