They are the only fish that spawn in the middle of the ocean but spend their adult lives in freshwater. They can overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and even cross over land. They are revered as guardians and monster-seducers by New Zealand's Maori and have inspired origin myths throughout the Pacific Islands. Often viewed with disgust in the West, they are a multibillion-dollar business in the Asian food market. And they are often mistaken for snakes. They are eels--one of the world's most amazing and least understood fish.
James Prosek offers a fascinating tour through the life history and cultural associations of the freshwater eel, exploring its biology in streams and epic migrations in the ocean, its myth and lore, its mystery and beauty. Prosek travels the globe to tell the story of the eel--from New York to New Zealand; from Europe to Japan and the small island of Pohnpei in Micronesia, where freshwater eels are worshipped by members of the eel clan. Along the way he introduces individuals whose lives are most connected with the eels' story--including fishermen, conservationists, and scientists seeking to uncover the eels' elusive home in the Sargasso Sea and their spawning places in other oceans of the world. Though freshwater eels have been here for hundreds of millions of years, populations are rapidly declining, due largely to dams, overfishing, pollution, and perhaps even global climate change.
Illustrated with original etchings by the author, Eels is a mesmerizing biography and history of this intriguing and mysterious creature. It is also a telling look at humanity, the will to persist, and the ever-changing relationship between man and the natural world.
"This is a delightful work with the urgency of a good detective story."
– Thomas McGuane
"I loved it! A beautiful adventure story of one of the most wide-spread and least-known but ecologically important fish."
– Bernd Heinrich, author of Summer World
"Enthralling [...] The eel's story is remarkable, and so are Prosek's tales of eel people."
– New Scientist
"[Prosek is] a diligent natural historian, keen to the greater landscape [...] A warm, enrapturing paean to the totemic potency of eels."
– Kirkus Reviews
"A wonderful account of far-flung travels in pursuit of the secrets of the earth's most mysterious fish [...] Fascinating and beautifully rendered."
– Peter Matthiessen
"The tale of Ray Turner, a man who still fishes for eels the traditional way with a hand-built weir, is at the heart of the book, tying the mythology, the mystery, and the commerce of eels together into his story."
"An engagingly written account [...] Readers interested in anthropology and folklore, fishing, and natural history will also enjoy this volume, which is enhanced by the author's etchings."
– Library Journal
"A comprehensive and appreciative study of one of the world's most mysterious creatures [...] [Prosek] has collected anguilline myths, lore and recipes from all over the world"
– The Economist
"Eels [is] more than a fish book. It is an impassioned defense of nature itself [...] In Eels, he passes on the truth that the often disdained eel, like all migratory fish, is vital and mysterious and worthy of our full effort to bring it back."
– New York Times Book Review