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Northeast Region News Release

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Diana Weaver, 413-253-8329

December 16, 2004


American Eel May Need Protection

HADLEY, MASS. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service will evaluate whether to consider Endangered Species Act protection for the American eel, the only freshwater eel in the Western hemisphere, according to Marvin Moriarty, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeast Region.

Two individuals, Douglas Harold Watts of Augusta, Maine, and Timothy Allan Watts of South Middleborough, Mass., petitioned the two Services in mid-November to extend ESA protection to the American eel, Moriarty said. The Services must decide by mid-February whether the Watts’ petition provides substantial information indicating that eels may need ESA protection.

If the petition provides such information, staff from the Services would review the population status and threats to the species and decide, based on the best available scientific information, whether ESA protection is warranted. During this process the public would have an opportunity to provide information about the species to assist the Services in making that decision, Moriarty said. The Services must decide whether to proceed with a proposed rule to provide ESA protection within one year of receiving the petition.

ESA protection can be in the form of either an “endangered” or a “threatened” designation. Endangered means that a species faces extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, while threatened means that, without protection, a species likely will become endangered within the foreseeable future. Either designation would prohibit harming or killing the species. The ESA also requires the Services to designate habitat deemed critical for the survival of the species.

Prior to receipt of the Watts’ petition, the Services agreed in September to review the American eel status at the request of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (representing 15 states from Maine to Florida) in light of an apparent decline in the commercial eel harvest.

American eels live from Greenland south along the North American coast to Brazil and, in the United States, inland to the Great Lakes. Eels begin their lives in the mid-Atlantic Sargasso Sea. About a year later, they migrate to freshwater rivers and lakes and coastal areas where they live for seven to 30 years. At maturity, eels return to the Sargasso Sea to spawn and die.

For more information on the endangered species program, see

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 544 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.

— FWS —