A Warkworth scientist is working with European Commission researchers on a project which could save endangered continental eels.

Mahurangi Technical Institute's managing director, Paul Decker, said the results could position New Zealand to capture a lucrative segment of the $3 billion international export market.

In February one of the institute's tutors, Dr Tagried Kurwie, a leading international eel authority, will board a research boat from Germany to the Sargasso Sea off Bermuda where scientists believe European species go to breed.

Only 5 per cent of the wild fishery is thought to remain and scientists are in a race to find out about its life cycle, during which freshwater eels return to the ocean to breed before dying.

The three-month project will start with the catch and satellite-tagging of eels.

Mahurangi is a leader in artificially maturing the fish, and Dr Kurwie will be responsible for this part of the European project.

Figuring out the life cycle could result in a switch from reliance on wild catch to full farming, which could result in a recovery of European stocks.

Mahurangi is among several international institutions with a good chance of leading that commercialisation.