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Progress Report:
The American Eel Status Review


(See news release of July 6, 2005, at http://news.fws.gov/NewsReleases. Search "Northeast Region.")

Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is completing the information collecting phase for a status review of the American eel, Service biologist Heather Bell said she is actively pursuing additional information. The Service sought public comment through Sept. 6 for information for the status review that will be used to determine the possible need to provide Endangered Species Act protection for the eel.

Bell said the public comment period generated quite a good response, with the majority of states within the U.S. range of the species responding. Other federal agencies provided information, including the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers. Non-governmental organizations, the Penobscot tribe, the commercial harvest and hydropower industries, and private individuals provided information on where the American eel lives, both currently and historically, and on threats to the eelís continuing survival. Additionally, the Service has had responses from the Caribbean and Puerto Rico. Other countries within the range of the American eel or that import American eel are being contacted for information.

The Amazing Eel:   

Eel reproductive research confirms that eels can reverse metamorphosis

As temperatures cool and eels make their way downriver in their migration to spawn in the ocean, they undergo physical changes to prepare their bodies for spawning and for the transition from freshwater to the marine environment. One of these changes is gut degeneration as the eels cease feeding and rely on fat stores to make the lengthy journey back to the Sargasso Sea where they spawn and die. According to recent European research, eels that are delayed, for example due to barriers or rises in temperature, and are unable to complete their downriver migration can actually reverse that physical change and regenerate their guts.

Citation: Estimation of the reproduction capacity of European eel, Final Report, 2005.

More information

Bell remains interested in reviewing new scientific and commercial data on the eelís status, threats that may affect the species, and life history characteristics important to understanding the impact of threats as she coordinates the status review. Bell is especially looking for more information on threats such as harvest, barriers to successful migration, changes in oceanic conditions, disease, loss and degradation of wetlands and habitat, contaminants, seaweed harvest, and predation and non-native interactions. Data or literature citations may be sent to AmericanEel@fws.gov.

The Service, in conjunction with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Service, and with participation from the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission and the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, will hold three workshops with invited experts addressing threats and the American eelís vulnerability. The workshops will cover three broad geographic areas — the Atlantic Coast and islands; the Great Lakes and Canada; and the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi watershed, and focus on the threats. The first workshop, in late November, will address the effects of harvest, ocean changes, and barriers to successful migration including hydroelectric dams.

Workshops

Atlantic Coast/Islands workshop: Nov. 29 — Dec. 1, 2005, at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, W.Va. Major topics covered at this workshop will include barriers to successful migration, changes in oceanic conditions, and harvest.

Great Lakes/Canada workshop: January 2006 in Buffalo, N.Y. Barriers to successful migration in the St. Lawrence River drainage basin will be discussed, including other threats to the species such as contaminants and loss and degradation of lake habitat. Additionally, there will be discussion of the importance of the St. Lawrence watershed to reproductive capacity of the species.

Gulf/Mississippi Watershed workshop: February 2006. Location to be determined. Barriers to migration will be discussed on a regional basis only. Other threat factors to be discussed include disease, loss of coastal wetlands, and dredging.

Information sources

To prepare the status review, Bell is tapping into the expertise of academia, Native American tribes, the hydropower industry, scientific researchers, and state agencies in the United States as well as experts in Canada and Europe.

Bell is coordinating with the Serviceís Division of Scientific Authority as they consider a proposal from the Serviceís Northeast Region to regulate international trade of American eel under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission anticipates completing their American eel stock assessment in February, according to Bell. The assessment will help identify whether a trend in the population data exists. The Service will use ASMFC data in the status review, which Bell expects to complete in early 2006.

Next steps

After the status review is completed, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service will decide whether Endangered Species Act protection is warranted for the American eel. If they decide protection is warranted, one or both Services will publish a rule in the Federal Register proposing to place the American eel on the List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife. A public comment period and peer review will follow, with the Services making a final decision based on the best available scientific information. If the decision is to protect the eel, they will publish a final rule that will explain the protections and if applicable, exemptions.

 




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