The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared January 30 that Endangered Species Act protection is not warranted for the American eel.
The service initiated a status review of the species in 2004 at the request of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Additionally, two brothers, Douglas Watts of Augusta, Maine, and Timothy Watts of South Middleborough, Mass., had petitioned for ESA protection of the eel.
Petitioners had provided information indicating American eel populations have declined and the species has lost much of its habitat. They cited various reasons for declines, including dams and hydropower turbines. The petitioners said 1,100 hydro dams on the eastern seaboard might represent a major source of mortality.
In response, the National Hydropower Association had argued there is insufficient scientific evidence to justify listing the American eel as threatened or endangered. NHA contended many of its member companies operate hydro projects on rivers where the eel is present. It said listing a species is significant and would impose significant additional burdens on the owners and operators of hydroelectric facilities. (HNN 8/11/06)
FWS: Eels not in danger of extinction in foreseeable future
The service said it examined all available information about the American eel population from Greenland to Brazil and as far inland as the Great Lakes and Mississippi River drainage. While the population has declined in some areas, the service said its overall population is not in danger of extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future.
ï¿½The eel population as a whole shows significant resiliency,ï¿½ FWS fishery biologist Heather Bell said. ï¿½If we look at eels over time, we see fluctuations in the population numbers, so a decreasing number of eels right now does not necessarily forecast an irreversible trend.ï¿½
Bell said over fishing and hydropower turbines continue to affect eels in some regions such as Lake Ontario and Chesapeake Bay. However, she said those factors do not fully explain the reduced numbers of eels migrating up the St. Lawrence Seaway into Lake Ontario.
The service said several actions have been taken to conserve eel populations, including installation of eel ladders for upstream passage at hydro projects, state harvest restrictions, and dam removals that open historic eel habitat. In addition, Canadian agencies have closed eel harvest in the Canadian portion of Lake Ontario.
The service said it will prepare suggestions for managing to allow for eel fishery sustainability while ensuring adequate conservation measures. It added that Canadian officials are considering designating the American eel a ï¿½species of special concern.ï¿½
American eels begin life in the Atlantic Ocean’s Sargasso Sea near Bermuda. The larvae ride the Gulf Stream for several months until they travel to Continental Shelf waters. Some grow to adulthood in the sea, while others migrate into estuaries or up rivers, while some migrate back and forth between habitats.