The European eel is a widely distributed fish species of economic and cultural importance. It inhabits both coastal and freshwater systems, and is targeted by fisheries and treasured as food item. Although eels are reared in aquaculture, this industry relies solely of wild‐caught juvenile glass eels that arrive to the European coasts after a 6000 km journey from the Sargasso Sea, where they were hatched. The adolescent eels start their long migration from the European continent back to their spawning area in the Sargasso Sea in late autumn as sliver eels. As long as the eels are within the European continent, they are in an immature stage, and they do not start migration and maturation until the silvering stage. This stage is however tightly controlled by brain and pituitary hormones, preventing maturation of gonads remote from their natural breeding area. This hormonal inhibition of maturation is the main reason why it is difficult to reproduce European eel in captivity. Although, attempted since 1930ies, utilizing maturational hormones primarily from other fish species, we only recently succeeded in refining reproduction protocols that enable rich quantities of viable gametes from this species. In view of these obstacles, the last decade’s research has shown substantial progress. This PhD has contributed to this progress through new knowledge and development of procedures for successful egg activation and fertilization as well as incubation and larvae culture. My PhD work addressed biophysical determinants fundamental to producing healthy eggs and larvae. One of my aims was to improve methods and results of in vitro fertilization. This research included characterisation of sperm density, “optimal” sperm to egg ratios and gamete mixing. Eel gametes are activated by salt water and incubated in a marine aquatic environment. In this regard, my aim was to identify suited salinities and seawater sources, supporting a good embryonic development. Embryonic development lasts two days from fertilization to hatch. During this time, as well as in early larval stages, mortality is high. Here, my aim was to assess effects of temperature and microbial interference during incubation and larval rearing on order to reduce this mortality in cultures. The results have provided valuable new insights, contributing to progress of in vitro fertilization methods and reduced mortality in egg and larval culture. Our fertilisation procedures initially applied spermatocrit as for sperm quantification technique to standardise sperm:egg ratio. Although being a practical method, it featured moderate precision. Spectrophotometry in contrast, showed high precision in addition to being a fast and practical and subsequently supported experiments that identified optimal sperm:egg ratio. Egg activation and swelling are among the processes often seen to fail in experiments. Activation salinity was found to be a determinant of egg fertilisation, buoyancy, and egg size although egg size effects differed among individual females. Fertilization percent was typically high in the range 30 and 40 ppt, while rate of un‐activated and dead eggs rose in higher salinities. Egg swelling could be optimized using certain artificial salt types and impeded using others. During egg incubation, microbial interference was found to be a major obstacle for hatch, rather caused by microbial activity than presence. Larval mortality was highly dependent on whether antimicrobial conditions were bacteriostatic of bactericidal. This calls for future technology and microbial management, e.g. by matured water integrated in RAS technology. The results obtained through these studies have added to Danish progress within artificial reproduction in European eel by improved fertilization protocols and identification of important parameters during the early life stages. Such progress has led to present focus on eel larval culture and feeding, which has brought attention to eel as a potential “new species” in aquaculture.
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Munk, Peter, Tomkiewicz, Jonna, Bossier, P.
DTU aqua. National Institute of Aquatic Resources, 2014