Elucidating barriers to gene flow is important for understanding the dynamics of speciation. Here we investigate pre- and post-zygotic mechanisms acting between the two hybridizing species of Atlantic eels: Anguilla anguilla and A. rostrata. Temporally varying hybridization was examined by analyzing 85 species-diagnostic single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs; FST ⩾0.95) in eel larvae sampled in the spawning region in the Sargasso Sea in 2007 (N=92) and 2014 (N=460). We further investigated whether genotypes at these SNPs were nonrandomly distributed in post-F1 hybrids, indicating selection. Finally, we sequenced the mitochondrial ATP6 and nuclear ATP5c1 genes in 19 hybrids, identified using SNP and restriction site associated DNA (RAD) sequencing data, to test a previously proposed hypothesis of cytonuclear incompatibility leading to adenosine triphosphate (ATP) synthase dysfunction and selection against hybrids. No F1 hybrids but only later backcrosses were observed in the Sargasso Sea in 2007 and 2014. This suggests that interbreeding between the two species only occurs in some years, possibly controlled by environmental conditions at the spawning grounds, or that interbreeding has diminished through time as a result of a declining number of spawners. Moreover, potential selection was found at the nuclear and the cytonuclear levels. Nonetheless, one glass eel individual showed a mismatch, involving an American ATP6 haplotype and European ATP5c1 alleles. This contradicted the presence of cytonuclear incompatibility but may be explained by that (1) cytonuclear incompatibility is incomplete, (2) selection acts at a later life stage or (3) other genes are important for protein function. In total, the study demonstrates the utility of genomic data when examining pre- and post-zyotic barriers in natural hybrids.Heredity advance online publication, 9 November 2016; doi:10.1038/hdy.2016.96.