Conserving the Nature of America

News Release

Endangered Species Act Protection for American Eel Not Needed

January 30, 2007


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

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced the completion of an extensive status review of the American eel, concluding that protecting the eel as an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act is not warranted.

In completing the review, the Service examined all available information about the American eel population from Greenland south along the North American coast to Brazil in South America and as far inland as the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River drainage. While the eel population has declined in some areas, the species’ overall population is not in danger of extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future, the Service decided.

“The eel population as a whole shows significant resiliency. If 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,” according to Heather Bell, Service fishery biologist.

“Overfishing and hydropower turbines continue to impact eels in some regions, such as Lake Ontario and Chesapeake Bay, although these factors do not fully explain the reduced number of eels migrating up the St. Lawrence Seaway and into Lake Ontario.” Bell said.

Several actions have been taken in an effort to conserve eel populations including installation of eel ladders for upstream passage at hydropower projects, implementation of state harvest restrictions, and dam removals that open historic eel habitat. In addition, Canadian resource agencies have closed the harvest of eels in the Canadian portion of Lake Ontario. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada is considering designating the American eel a “species of special concern.” During the next few months, the Service will prepare suggestions for managing to allow for eel fishery sustainability while ensuring adequate conservation measures for the species.

The Service initiated the status review in 2004 at the request of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, representing 15 states from Maine to Florida. Following that request, Douglas Harold Watts of Augusta, Maine, and Timothy Allan Watts of South Middleborough, Mass., requested by petition that Endangered Species Act protection be extended to the eel.

The Service determined in 2005 that substantial biological information existed to warrant a more thorough examination and began a comprehensive review of all the available scientific and commercial information. The Service hosted two workshops to discuss threats and vulnerabilities with eel experts from federal and state agencies, nonprofit organizations, private industry, Native American tribes, academia, the ASMFC, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Canada, England and Japan.

American eels begin life in the Atlantic Ocean’s Sargasso Sea near Bermuda. The larvae ride the Gulf Stream for several months until they make their way to Continental Shelf waters.

Some eels grow to adulthood in the marine environment; some go into freshwater/saltwater estuaries; some migrate up rivers and streams; and some eels move from one habitat to another as they develop. Biologists believe this adaptability among various environments enhances the species’ ability to survive despite threats in one or more environments.

Eels in the marine environment grow faster and mature earlier than those in freshwater. Eels in large freshwater systems may grow slowly for as long as 40 years, becoming much larger than eels in salt water before beginning their downstream migration en route to the Sargasso Sea where they spawn.

The “Federal Register” notice with the status review on American eels will be published Feb. 2. See For additional information about American eels, see