First-ever large scale US eel farm American Unagi opens for business

The interior of the American Unagi eel aquaculture facility.

American Unagi, a land-based eel aquaculture farm located in Waldoboro, Maine, U.S.A., has opened for business.

Construction commenced on the eel-growing facility, the first of its scale in the United States, in July 2021. American Unagi Founder and President Sara Rademaker spent seven years planning the design of the 27,000-square-foot facility, which she said cost USD 10 million (EUR 9.2 million). 

The facility uses a recirculating aquaculture system to raise elvers to adulthood in indoor tanks. Rademaker said the market for the product will be wholesalers, restaurants, and retailers throughout the U.S.

A big benefit of growing eels in the U.S., she said, is ensuring responsible fishing practices and sustainability. Eels are a heavily smuggled seafood species internationally, especially in Europe where the European eel has been listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Smugglers can earn millions trading the eels on the black market, and law enforcement agencies have made high-profile busts of complicated smuggling operations.  

“Globally, eel production has had a reputation of uncertainty, so bringing to market an accountable eel with responsible sourcing and farming practices has been a big part of our mission the last eight years,” Rademaker said.

The U.S. state of Maine, where the new facility is based, has a commercial fishery for elvers, the baby eels that aquaculture operations in Asia use as stock for growing full-grown eels. Buyers are willing to pay high prices for the eels, which are essential for aquaculture as no method exists for breeding the species in captivity.  

The elver season is currently ongoing in Maine, and the Maine Department of Marine Resources, as of 6 p.m. on Sunday, 9 April, reported the average price per pound for the species is USD 2,082 (EUR 1,916) with 5,383 pounds caught so far out of the 9,619-pound quota available in 2023. 

Rademaker said she hope to purchase some of the elvers and use them to produce more than 500,000 pounds of American eel (Anguilla rostrata) annually.  

American Unagi is the first large scale eel farm, but it isn't the first based in the U.S. American Eel Farm LLC, based in Trenton, North Carolina, U.S.A. is the first, and started in 2003. The farm also uses an RAS – designed in Denmark – to raise eels for sale to a number of markets.  

Photo courtesy of American Unagi


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