Anguillid eels have been observed, studied, fished, traded and consumed by humans for centuries. As a consequence, societies have developed various cultural phenomena regarding cuisine, folklore, art, literature, legend. In recent years, however, some populations of eels have been in sharp decline across the globe, some species are now considered to be endangered, and there is an ever increasing need to share knowledge amongst the scientific, management and conservation community to protect these enigmatic fish, to reverse declines and elsewhere to prevent their occurrence. To facilitate this knowledge exchange, a congress session focussed on anguillid eels was held at the sixth World Fisheries Congress in May 2012 at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. This special issue of Ecology of Freshwater Fish contains a number of the papers presented at the congress session, each focussed on a particular scientific problem. While the scientific study of eels is required to understand and manage eel resources, and to which end the majority of this volume is related, it is also necessary to take the cultural and social aspects of eels into account when considering how to ensure that this fascinating family of fishes has a sustainable future.