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The Conger Eel
Congridae conger conger

The Conger eel is found all round the British Isles, and other Northern European coastlines. It prefers rough ground, preferably a reef or a wreck, in depths down to about 100m. It grows to a maximum of 3m long and about 250-350lb in weight. In fact this weight is just a guess and maybe larger.

BIG EEL TRIVIA

* The biggest Conger Eel ever recorded was a gigantic fish of 350lb found trapped in nets off Iceland's Westmann Islands.

* A 210lb Conger Eel was landed on the quay at Falmouth, Cornwall, UK. It was caught commercially very close to shore.

* Fish of 170lb and 155lb have been sold in Newlyn and Plymouth Barbican Fish Markets.

* What may have been a 200lb Conger eel took another eel of around 40lb that had been hooked and bit it in half in full view of anglers fishing off South East Cornwall's Penlee Point.

* The current Rod Caught World Record Conger Eel of 133lb 4oz was captured by Vic Evans fishing a wreck from his own boat Sea Spray off Brixham, Devon, UK  in 1995.

* The current Rod Caught Shore World Record Conger Eel of 68lbs 8oz was captured by Martin Larkins fishing from Devil's Point, Plymouth, Devon, UK in 1991.

* There have been 34 TON UP Boat Conger Eels officially recorded by the BCC.

* The first officially recorded 100lb plus Conger Eel was captured by Robin Potter in 1976 fishing aboard the well known Plymouth based Charter Vessel "BOA PESCADOR" skippered by Steve Barrett.

* Jim Calvert fishing from the Plymouth based Charter Boat "MISTRESS" skippered by Bill Warner was the first ever to capture two hundred plus Conger Eels on the same day weighing in at 105lb & 103lbs. Just for good measure the third eel he caught weighed in at 75lbs.

Skipper Bill Warner of  the "MISTRESS", with the late Jim Calvert and crewman Dale Endicott.
(Picture copyright & courtesy Mike Millman)

* A Conger Eel estimated to be in the region of 150lbs was lost just before coming to the gaff of Skipper Tony ALLEN on the vessel "ELECTRIC BLUE" fishing out of the Port of Plymouth. The vessel was fishing a wreck in the HURDS DEEP AREA of the ENGLISH CHANNEL in 1995.

Ron Thompson with his 102lb 8oz Conger captured from the Karen Jane with skipper Colin Williams.

* The first 'ton up' eel was taken in 1974 off Cornwall by Londoner Ron Thompson. His 102lb 8oz fish was somewhat unconventionally caught with a baited pirk. Thompson did not seek membership of the Conger Club, but his catch was a milestone in conger fishing.

* The longest period of time the BOAT captured CONGER EEL WORLD RECORD has stood, is 15 years. From Robin POTTERS fish of 1976 of 109lbs 6oz on the BOA PESCADOR with skipper Steve Barrett, to Hans Clausen's record breaking fish of 110lbs 11.5ozs captured on the MISTRESS, skippered by Bill Warner in 1991.

Hans Clausen's record breaking Conger Eel of 110lbs 11.5ozs captured in 1991 on the "MISTRESS" skippered by Bill Warner from the Port of Plymouth.
(Picture copyright & courtesy Mike Millman)

* Richard English who was aged 14 at the time of this capture and is still the World & Junior Champion with a Conger of 84lb caught in the (Deep Hole) three miles south of Portland.  He fished on the "Channel Chieftain" skippered by Pat Carlin.

* The only picture of two 100lb Conger Eels at the same time was recorded by Mike Millman (Photographer Journalist) when he pictured two eels, one landed by the "MISTRESS" and one landed by "ELECTRIC BLUE".

The conger eel on the right in the picture was caught on the "MISTRESS" and weighed 101lbs 8ozs and the one on the left, which was a new world record at the time was caught by Trevor Kerrison on the "ELECTRIC BLUE" and weighed in at 111lbs 4oz. Both fish were captured out of the Port of Plymouth.
(Picture copyright & courtesy Mike Millman)


THE CONGER EEL

A recent DISCOVERY CHANNEL program was searching the sea south of Ireland in the hope of finding the vessel "CARPATHIA" which gained notoriety by rescuing the survivors of the "TITANIC". Itself being torpedoed some six years later, 120 miles south to south west of IRELAND in position 49.25.00N 10.25.00 W

The resting place of the "CARPATHIA" was discovered by the team led by the renowned wreck hunter ROBERT BALLARD in the year 2000 using a combination of "hitch" data supplied by Irish fisherman, the last log of the "CARPATHIA" and U-boat data. The research vessel then used SONAR'S, MAGNETOMETER  and finally a R.O.V to identify one of these "hitches" as being the "CARPATHIA"
 
The interesting thing about all of this, is that the wreck of the "CARPATHIA"  lies in a 160 metres of water
A nice conger and many Conger Eels are to be seen in the video of the wreck site. All where very large fish. They also found another vessel called the "ISIS" some 22 miles away which also showed many large Conger Eels. Very few other species are seen in the video.

It's usually not that difficult to identify a conger, but if you're in any doubt, the following should help. The conger is usually a grey black colour, though this can vary from a pale grey or brownish through to almost black. The skin is scale less and the upper jaw protrudes beyond the lower.

The British and World Record stands at an enormous 133lb 4oz, taken by Vic Evans in 1995. He was fishing on Sea Spray II out of Brixham on a local wreck some 6 miles from shore. However, much larger eels have been taken by trawlers, including several between 150 to 250lb along the south coast of Devon & Cornwall.

Commercial Fishing

Conger are generally a by-product of the catch for most commercial fishermen. Even so, a fair quantity of conger is landed each year, as these are targeted by some vessels such as local long-liners.

 

The largest conger eel seen for many years in Cornwall was caught in 2001 by the Penryn trawler "ANDROMARQUE" skippered by John Brenton. Even when gutted the 8ft eel tipped the scales at 200lb and the nipper alongside is a mere 16lb. The picture shows Banner Seafood's (Hayle) manager Phil Benfield, with the monster fish.


(Picture courtesy Western Morning News)

Before you get to excited this enormous 9 foot long Conger Eel was landed at the NEWLYN FISH MARKET, Cornwall  on Wednesday April 21st 2004 from a local trawler.

The true weight could not be verified as they did not have a scale large  enough to weigh the monster. The gutted fish hit the maximum  recordable weight of the scales at 68Kg which is approx 149lbs 6oz. They guessed the true weight to be around 80Kg or 175lbs.

RECORD CONGER IS STILL OUT THERE WAITING TO BE CAPTURED!
April 2008

This Conger Eel was caught in a Beam Trawl off Brixham was  photographed at the Brixham Fish Market after it had been gutted prior to auction and it still weighed 134 lbs 2 ozs!

Each of the 3 fish boxes on which it has been laid are around 3 feet long and it overhangs the end

The British Record Rod Caught Conger Eel captured by Vic Evans, from a wreck off Berry Head, back in June 1995 weighed 133 lbs 4 oz complete with its guts.

Friday 18th April 2008
Photo courtesy of Dave Harrison


I have managed to update the following tables with the 2004 fishing statistics which have just become available from the D.E.F.R.A 2004 data base (UK FISHING INDUSTRY).

The total quantity of Conger Eels landed into the UK has steadily decreased since 1999 and fell from 466 tons in 2002 to 429 thousand tons in 2003, 461 thousand tons in 2004. The value of those landings has slightly increased from 2003 of £392 million to £405 million in 2004.

Of the landings into the UK by the UK fleet demersal species represented 28% of the total landings by the UK fleet in terms of quantity and 45% in terms of value in 2004. Pelagic species accounted for 20% in terms of quantity but only 16% in terms of value in 2004, and shellfish 51% in quantity and 37% in value in 2004.


The analysis also shows that other sportfishing species catches such as Pollack, Ling, Cod are down once again, but the value has increased. Now did we need a table to work that out ? Someone needs to tell them we are over fishing particularly during spawning season. But I guess they will work that out sometime.

The UK fishing industry recorded landings of fish into the UK and abroad of £521 million in 2003, with landings of over 631,000 tonnes. Landings by the UK FISHING FLEET of Conger Eels home and abroad increased from 1159 TONS in 2000 to 1266 TONS in 2001. A NEW HIGH of 1586 TONS in 2003 AT A VALUE OF £818,000 was reached in 2003.

The position for 2004 has now seen a large reversal showing a significant decrease in landings of Conger Eels by UK vessels home & abroad to 901 TONS at a value of £580,000

PLEASE NOTE THE DATA SHOWN BELOW IS THE LATEST AVAILABLE FROM D.E.F.R.A
as at 1st May 2008

Annual Landings in (tons) of Conger Eels to UK Ports

1995

1996

2000

2001

2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
UK Ports 576
@
£1,070/ton
423
@
£1,055/ton
427
@
£840/ton
403
@
£732/ton
NOT
RECORDED
IN
DEFRA
REPORT

230
@
£700/ton
 
232
@
£646/ton
326
@
£929/ton
201
@
£680/ton
NI Ports 179
@
£724/ton
221
@
£794/ton
220
@
£659/ton
298
@
£1374/ton
NOT
AVAILABLE
IN
DEFRA
REPORT
NOT
AVAILABLE
IN
DEFRA
REPORT
NOT
AVAILABLE
IN
DEFRA
REPORT
NOT
AVAILABLE
IN
DEFRA
REPORT
NOT
AVAILABLE
IN
DEFRA
REPORT

Catch of Conger Eels by UK Port (tons)

1995

1996

2000

2001

2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
Weymouth 3 N/A 4 3 4 1 2 2 3
Plymouth 13 12 11 21 19 14 21 15 22
Newlyn 306 197 136 87 75 66 77 87 70
Brixham 16 17 18 22 25 27 22 23 19
Looe 40 33 35 16 16 13 12 16 N/A
Falmouth 30 13 30 20 10 6 12 10 N/A
Padstow 13 7 3 3 2 3 1 N/A N/A
Milford Haven 30 34 51 29 28 14 22 39 21
Fleetwood 11 14 11 6 3 3 3 N/A N/A
Poole 0 0 1 2 1 1 1 N/A N/A

The TOTAL LANDINGS of CONGER EELS by the UK FISHING FLEET into the UK & ABROAD for the year 2000 was 1159 tons at a value of £826,000

The TOTAL LANDINGS of CONGER EELS by the UK FISHING FLEET into the UK & ABROAD for the year 2001 was 1266 tons at a value of £867,000

The TOTAL LANDINGS of CONGER EELS by the UK FISHING FLEET into the UK & ABROAD for the year 2002 NO RECORDS FOUND IN DEFRA STATISTICS FOR THIS YEAR.

The TOTAL LANDINGS of CONGER EELS by the UK FISHING FLEET into the UK & ABROAD for the year 2003 was 1586 tons at a value of £818,000

The TOTAL LANDINGS of CONGERS EELS by the UK FISHING FLEET into the UK & ABROAD for the year 2004 was 901 tons at a value of £580,000

The TOTAL LANDINGS of CONGERS EELS by the UK FISHING FLEET into the UK & ABROAD for the year 2005 was 264 tons at a value of £224,000

The TOTAL LANDINGS of CONGERS EELS by the UK FISHING FLEET into the UK & ABROAD for the year 2006 was 696 tons at a value of £483,000

The latest figures show a increase in TONNAGE and value of £694/ton. In spite of what some people say, a lot of Conger Eels are eaten by the population but not in the United Kingdom. This fish is considered a delicacy in France. Mind you the French, will eat anything that swims! And I am not being disrespectful. Urchins as well !

Identification:

There are eight distinct species of Conger found in the Atlantic, but Conger oceanicus is the largest and most common. Specimens up to 250lbs have been taken by commercial fisherman although any fish caught on rod and line over 70lbs would be considered a specimen. 

The Conger has a scaleless skin and its upper jaw extends beyond its lower. Colouring very much depends on the type of seabed it inhabits. On rocks, the back is charcoal grey and the underparts are pale, but over sand the back is a light-grey brown. The margins of the dorsal and anal fins are black. The conger can normally be differentiated from another eel merely by its size. However, small fish can be identified by the dorsal fin beginning at the pectoral fins and running the length of its body. The dorsal fin on a silver eel begins well back from its pectoral fins.

Breeding:

The breeding cycle of the Conger is still something of a mystery due to the enormous distances that they will travel to spawn. It is thought that the Conger migrate to the Sargasso Sea in the sub-tropical Atlantic to breed, spawning at depths of 10,000 to 12,000 ft. Once they spawn they are thought to die. This is now doubted. Itís possible adult conger may actually only breed once and this is likely to occur in very deep water off the UK coast.
The larvae are transparent and flattened, and drift at the surface for up to 2 years before reaching the shoreline where they become cylindrical. At this stage they are still transparent and about 3 inches long. The full colouring appears by the time the eel is 12 inches long.

The larva is transparent and flattened and is carried by surface currents inshore guaranteeing a wide distribution of eels.

Habitat:

Conger Eels favour very rough ground and inhabit deepwater wrecks, reefs and broken ground. In shallow waters Conger are mostly nocturnal feeders, but in depths of 60ft or more they feed at any time.

Food:

Conger are bottom feeders more than capable of catching live food. They will hole up in a wreck or rough ground and ambush lesser species. They will take fish baits, crab, cuttlefish and squid. The most popular angling bait is a whole mackerel or mackerel 'flapper' produced by taking the whole fish and removing the backbone and tail, allowing the flanks and innards to flutter in the tide. If it is available, a whole live Pouting can prove deadly. Fresh Cuttlefish are also deadly and are favoured by some as the best Conger bait available, however they are messy to use, so watch out for that ink. It stains everything, even the boats deck.

Range:
English Channel, North Sea, Irish Sea, French Coast and Mediterranean.

Additional Notes:

Conger eels have extremely sharp teeth and strong jaws. 
Traces or leaders for Conger fishing should be wire or heavy duty monofilament of at least 300lb to avoid being bitten through. Even 300lb Mono will sometimes not be suffice.
Congers stay alive for long periods out of water and great caution should be exercised when unhooking the fish. Several anglers have lost fingers as they thought the fish was dead.
Conger flesh is relatively tough but eating quality is fair if cooked properly, often as Conger steaks. The French seem to enjoy them as a delicacy.

Further Information
I have found it hard to track down information on our favourite fish, even though I have searched the web for many hours. There is some very interesting information and pictures on the following sites, not necessarily the UK specie of Conger, but conger species from around the world.

(This page last updated January 2011)

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