15 Aug 2014

Eel Experts Gather in Québec City

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Juvenile American eels. Photo by Uwe Kils.

Juvenile American eels. Photo by Uwe Kils.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 15, 2014

Contact: Beth Beard
bbeard@fisheries.org
301-897-8616 office
240-687-3761 cell

EEL EXPERTS GATHER IN QUÉBEC CITY

QUÉBEC CITY, CANADA—Eels are truly unusual fish with an ancient history dating back to the age of dinosaurs. Their biological makeup includes a rare trait—mature adults migrate to the Sargasso Sea in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean to spawn and then young individuals migrate back to their continental habitats. This “catadromous” pattern exposes eel populations to stress at sea, in congested coastal ports near the mouths of most American and European rivers, and when the young “elvers” move upstream to where they will live until summoned back to the Sargasso. Such a complicated life cycle makes eels excellent indicators of habitat quality from the open ocean to small creeks in coastal watersheds. The challenge to save eels is profound.
American and European eels will be a featured attraction at the American Fisheries Society’s 144th Annual Meeting on August 17-21, 2014, in Québec City, Canada. Experts will assemble at the eel symposium to assess the status of worldwide eel populations. The event follows the last gathering of North American and European representatives in 2003—part of the AFS Annual Meeting that was also held in Québec City that year—which culminated in the “Québec Declaration of Concern,” urging action on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

A decade later, despite an international response and higher numbers of elvers in Europe this year, experts still fear eel populations have plummeted to historical lows. A recent article in Fisheries magazine called for the restoration of American eel populations in the St. Lawrence River watershed. The symposium theme of “Are Eels Climbing Back up the Slippery Slope?” offers an optimistic tone to the primary intent to share the latest knowledge of eel conservation.

Seven things everyone should know about eels –

  • Eels are catadromous, which means they migrate to the sea to spawn. Their life history is the opposite of salmon and some other species of fish, who live as adults in the ocean and migrate up rivers to spawn. Like salmon, adult eels die after spawning.
  • They perform one of the longest migrations in the animal kingdom to return to their spawning site: up to 6,000 km for the European eel.
  • There are two closely related eel species in North America and in Europe which share a common spawning ground in the southern Sargasso Sea, off the Bahamas.
  • Eels are indeed very slimy but they do have rudimentary scales. They are also a fish, despite their snake-like body shape.
  • Eels taste good. Young eels are a common prey to large fish and are a delectable dish in some parts of the world. Their role in international commerce, including aquaculture ventures, translates into a significant economic boost for some coastal fishing communities.
  • Their slippery and furtive nature have served to protect them from overfishing and continued habitat loss. Nonetheless, populations have plummeted in recent decades.
  • Eels are under consideration for protection in the United States under the Endangered Species Act and in Canada under the Species at Risk Act.

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Editor’s Note: For details on the symposium, visit the Québec City meeting website, with a separate listing for the technical sessions each day (see https://afs.confex.com/afs/2014/webprogram/Session2991.html for August 18; scroll down on the AFS website to view symposium activities for the other three days). Please contact Beth Beard for complimentary media registration for admission.

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