After their oceanic migration, juvenile European eels Anguilla anguilla enter estuaries as glass eels, develop into pigmented elvers and migrate into fresh water. Fisheries often transfer such eels abruptly between salinities, principally glass eels and elvers from estuarine to fresh water. It is usually assumed that survival rates are high, but this required systematic investigation. Survival was found to be 100% over 21 days of glass eels and semi-pigmented elvers transferred abruptly from estuary conditions into fresh water, 50% sea water and full sea water. Fully pigmented elvers, however, showed significantly reduced survival when transferred into sea water. Salinity preference experiments with juvenile eels have historically been inconclusive. Here, in a choice chamber design, a clear developmental shift in salinity preference was found, with glass eels preferring 100% sea water, semi-pigmented elvers showing no clear preference and fully pigmented elvers preferring fresh water. We conclude that eel fisheries enhancement by abrupt transfer of juveniles among salinities is largely vindicated. In addition, developmental shifts in salinity preference have been clarified and this aids in the interpretation of eel migration patterns.