Huge, ‘rare’ American eel washes ashore on Mustang Island

‘This is like, basically as big as they get’

Jace Tunnell with the University of Texas Marine Science Institute is used to finding interesting creatures and items on beaches.

His #beachcombing series on the Mission-Aransas Reserve’s Facebook page shows him encountering dead birds, washed-up starfish and blue dragons on Mustang Island near Port Aransas.

But last week, he found a “rare” monster-like fish.

Tunnell, who is the reserve director for the institute, posted a video of a dead 4-foot-long American eel. He said it was likely a female, as they die after spawning 4 million eggs offshore.

“This right here is larger than what you would normally see. This is like, basically as big as they get,” Tunnell said in the video posted by the Mission-Aransas Reserve. UTMSI is the managing entity of the Mission-Aransas Reserve.

Tunnell said they are usually used for fishing bait, though this beast was too large for that.

The state rod and reel record for the American eel is actually 42 inches and 6.45 pounds, according to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. That fish was caught in September 2001 in Lady Bird Lake. The world record is 9.25 pounds.

“It is rare to find any eel this size washing up on the Texas coast,” Tunnell told KSAT 12 News. “Amazing what we find washing up from the ocean.”

Tunnell said he documents his weekly beach surveys where he looks for sea turtles, counts birds, and logs any marine mammals.

Adult American eels typically spend their time in freshwater and head to the ocean for spawning.

The construction of dams has eliminated the species from most areas in central and west Texas, as they are unable to travel upstream.

“Although many anglers are put off by the snake-like appearance of eels and the prodigious amounts of slime they produce when captured, eels are in fact exceptionally good fish,” TPWD said on its website. “In Texas, they are usually caught by anglers fishing for something else.”

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Rebecca Salinas joined KSAT in the fall of 2019. Her skills include content management, engagement and reporting.