Dr. James G. Geiger 413-253-8304; Ron Howey 413-253-8605; Heather Bell 413-253-8645; Diana Weaver 413-253-8329
More than 30 biologists exchanged information about eels at a workshop Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 in Shepherdstown,
Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Heather Bell said, "The information the eel experts provided will shape further exploration and assist us in making a recommendation on whether or not to provide Endangered Species Act protection for the American eel."
The eel experts ensured that the Service has all the available information on potential threats to eels, assisted in interpreting the information, and identified areas with critical information gaps. Experts from federal and state agencies, non-profit organizations, private industry, academia and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission attended the workshop. Most were from the
The experts debated the effects on the American eel population of migration barriers, commercial harvest and changes in the ocean, Bell said. Barriers to migration, although clearly an issue on some large rivers, are difficult to assess for the entire eel population. Unknowns such as what actually acts as a barrier, as well as details of the species' unique life history, leave this question unanswered. Commercial harvest peaked in the 1970s and now appears to be relatively stable. Although mostly hypothetical, conditions in the ocean and their possible effect may explain variations in the number of young eels surviving to reach the coasts of North and South America.
A second workshop in early 2006 will continue the dialog between the Services and outside experts. It will focus on factors within the eel environment affecting the population decline, stabilization or growth. Bell anticipates the Services will conclude the status review and provide a recommendation on Endangered Species Act protection later in 2006.
For a list of panelists, draft minutes from the workshop and other eel information, see http://www.fws.gov/northeast/ameel/
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.