Help save the American Eel: write a letter now

by Ken Buchan, OFNC Conservation Committee

Note: The deadline for submissions is 18 March 2016

Background

American Eel (Anguilla rostrata). See Freezing Nature for more photos

American Eel (Anguilla rostrata). See Freezing Nature for more photos

The American Eel (Anguilla rostrata), once common over a large portion of eastern Canada, has declined dramatically in much of its Canadian range due to pressures from fishing, dams blocking migration routes, hydro turbines, habitat degradation, and pollution.

According to Conservation Committee member, Ian Whyte, “There were eels in the Ottawa region, in rivers and lakes all over our 50-km circle, but they are now almost completely extirpated, mainly because of dams. Upriver from Ottawa, there are a few ‘ladders’ [that eels can use to get around a dam during migration], but none downstream. This is most definitely our fight!”

Currently, attempts are being made in some provinces or region to address the problem; e.g., upgrading the listing from Vulnerable to Endangered in some provinces; reducing fishing in some regions; banning fishing in Ontario; and implementing a recovery strategy in Ontario. However, the population continues to decline. A national strategy is urgently needed.

Ontario’s eels have been particularly hard hit, and have dropped to a tiny fraction of their historical numbers. The Ontario decline has far-reaching implications for the overall health of the American Eel population in North America because Ontario’s eels are virtually all large females and carry several times the number of eggs as they migrate to the sea compared with eels from elsewhere. Unfortunately, they face serious pressures from fishing once they leave Ontario, as well as other threats.

In 2012, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), the scientific body that assesses the status of species, concluded that the American Eel is Threatened (see COSEWIC’s assessment report).

As a result, the federal government is now considering whether to list the American Eel under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and is currently asking the public for comments.

It is important that the American Eel be listed to enable the development of a recovery strategy across the species’ Canadian range.

Unfortunately, the federal government does not necessarily accept the assessment of COSEWIC, especially if there are commercial or political considerations. Therefore, a strong public response is needed.

Making submissions

The federal government is asking the public for comments by 18 March 2016. Submissions can be made:

 

  • as a letter or email to:Fisheries and Oceans Canada
    Gulf Region
    Species at Risk Programs
    343 Université Ave.
    Moncton NB E1C 9B6
    e-mail xglf-saralep@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

Important points to make in submissions

  1. The American Eel is in decline across much of its range in Canada. The species faces multiple threats from fishing, dams which block migration routes, hydro turbines, habitat degradation, and pollution.
  2. The Ontario population has dropped to a tiny fraction of its historical level, yet faces serious threats from dams, hydro turbines, habitat loss in Ontario, as well as from fishing and pollution on the migration route down the St. Lawrence River to the sea.
  3. The science is clear and well documented by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (reference COSEWIC, 2012) which has designated the species as Threatened.
  4. The federal government should accept the COSEWIC scientific assessment and list the American Eel under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).
  5. Federal listing under SARA is critical as it will permit the development of a coordinated national recovery strategy that addresses the numerous threats.

For details about the taxonomy, habitat, ecology, range, and more, please see Anguilla rostrata, IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

A poem about Anguilla rostrata, by Fred Schueler, a member of the OFNC Conservation Committee.

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