New research facility can put more eel on the table

Tuesday 10 May 16
by Line Reeh


Jonna Tomkiewicz
Senior Researcher
DTU Aqua
+45 35 88 34 08

Business partners of the research facility

  • Billund Aquaculture
  • STMI Aqua Systems
  • Dansk Akvakultur
  • Bioneer
  • BioMar
  • the North Sea Science Park

On the European eel

Eel do not breed naturally in our waters or in farming, and do not reach sexual maturity before they are on their way to the spawning grounds in the Sargasso Sea. Therefore, researchers must develop methods to overcome the natural hormonal inhibition of the eels' sexual maturity.

In addition, the eel's spawning, eggs, and early larvae stages are still unknown in nature, and we are still uncertain about what the slightly larger larvae feed on on their way through the ocean currents from the Sargasso Sea to Europe's coastline.

On Monday, 9 May, a facility for the propagation of European eel was inaugurated at DTU in Hirtshals in North Jutland. Here, researchers and industry are working on developing the technology necessary to enable future commercial production of eel larvae independent of wild-caught eels. 

The European eel is a popular food fish, but due to a decline in the wild population, the eel larvae—the so-called glass eels which are the basis for eel farming today—have become a scarce resource. This enables farmers to saturate the large market for eel in Europe and Asia, which means that there is great interest in getting the eel to breed in aquaculture and producing glass eels.

A new research facility at DTU in Hirtshals, which was inaugurated on Monday, 9 May, has been developed especially for European eel. The research and innovation project EEL-HATCH is behind the facility, and the project is supported by Innovation Fund Denmark and is headed by DTU Aqua.

The aim of EEL-HATCH is to create the basis for a future production of glass eels in Denmark, says Jonna Tomkiewicz, Project Manager and Senior Researcher at DTU Aqua:

"The research facility we inaugurate today is designed specifically for the purpose, and we look forward to the unique opportunities it will give us to develop new technology for producing and culturing eel larvae. This is done through targeted cooperation with our business partners."

The research facility was officially inaugurated by, Ulla Tørnæs, Danish Minister for Higher Education and Science. She says:

"It is vital that we are able to translate research into value. EEL-HATCH is a good example of the fact that research is of vital importance to our society, nature, and future. It has the potential to make a big difference for Danish eel farming, Danish jobs, and the conservation of the eel in Europe. With today's inauguration of EEL-HATCH, we have launched a new and important project".

The EEL-HATCH facility is located at the North Sea Science Park in the North Denmark Region, where DTU already has several research sections. DTU President Anders Overgaard Bjarklev at the opening:

"With the inauguration of this new research facility, we are one stop closer to developing the necessary technology for producing glass eels in culture in the long term. At the same time, DTU strengthens its ties to the North Denmark Region which has proven to be an important player in the development of the Danish aquaculture industry. Thus, it is with great pleasure that we today cut the ribbon at the new research facilities in Hirtshals."

"It has the potential to make a big difference for Danish eel farming, Danish jobs, and the conservation of the eel in Europe. "
Ulla Tørnæs, Danish Minister for Higher Education and Science

Innovation Fund Denmark has funded the building project with EUR 2 million, industrial partners with EUR 1.4 million, DTU with EUR 670,000, and the North Sea Science Park has contributed an additional EUR 670,000.

The research facility covers an area of 650 m2. The construction work was started in December 2014 and completed in August 2015, where the layout of laboratories and the establishment of culture systems for fish, eggs, and larvae and associated saltwater intake and recirculation technology was kicked off. Now the last part of the layout is finished, the systems have been function-tested, and the experimental research is entering a new phase.


The overall objectives of the project is to create the technology required to breed European eel and keep larvae in culture until they reach the glass eel stage.

The main challenges for the project is to get the eel to become sexually mature and develop in culture, to obtain viable eggs and hatch larvae on a large scale, and to design appropriate culture and feed types that will make the larvae feed and develop into glass eels. The project is scheduled to run until 2017 with a budget of more than EUR 4 million.

The consortium has propelled itself to the forefront of international research in the production of viable eggs and larvae of European eel, among other things through the previous EU project PRO-EEL. Read more at

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