Conserving the Nature of America

News Release

Eel Experts Home in on Threats

December 23, 2005


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220


; More than 30 biologists exchanged information about eels at a workshop Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 in Shepherdstown, W.Va. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service invited the biologists to the workshop as a first step toward an assessment of the American eel it is preparing in cooperation with the National Marine Fisheries Service.


; 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 United States, but Canada, England and Japan were also represented.


; 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