AbstractThe stock of European Eel (Anguilla anguilla L.) has reached an all-time low in 2011. Spawner quality of mature eels in terms of health status and fitness is considered one of the key elements for successful migration and reproduction. Dioxin-like Polychlorinated Biphenyls (dl-PCBs) are known persistent organic pollutants potentially affecting the reproductive capability and health status of eels throughout their entire lifetime. In this study, muscle tissue samples of 192 European eels of all continental life stages from 6 different water bodies and 13 sampling sites were analyzed for contamination with lipophilic dl-PCBs to investigate the potential relevance of the respective habitat in light of eel stock management. Results of this study reveal habitat-dependent and life history stage-related accumulation of targeted PCBs. Sum concentrations of targeted PCBs differed significantly between life stages and inter-habitat variability in dl-PCB levels and -profiles was observed. Among all investigated life stages, migrant silver eels were found to be the most suitable life history stage to represent their particular water system due to habitat dwell-time and their terminal contamination status. With reference to a possible negative impact of dl-PCBs on health and the reproductive capability of eels, it was hypothesized that those growing up in less polluted habitats have a better chance to produce healthy offspring than those growing up in highly polluted habitats. We suggest that the contamination status of water systems is fundamental for the life cycle of eels and needs to be considered in stock management and restocking programs.