Eels at the Edge: Science, Status, and Conservation Concerns

Management of American Eels in Lake Ontario and the Upper St. Lawrence River

Alastair Mathers and Thomas J. Stewart


Abstract.—The American eel Anguilla rostrata is an important component of the aquatic ecosystem of Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River and historically has been one of the most valuable commercial species in Ontario waters of this system. Between 1984 and 1993, reported annual harvest ranged from 104 to 124 metric tons. Since 1993, eel harvests have declined precipitously in all areas above the Moses-Saunders Power Dam in spite of an increase in price per kg. During 2002, fishers held 85 eel licenses and harvested 12 metric tons (mt) of maturing yellow eel, mostly with hoop nets and trap nets. The numbers of eels migrating into this system in recent years suggests that if fishing effort remains constant, commercial harvests in areas above the dam will be under 3 mt per year between now and 2010. Provincial management programs have imposed license and season restrictions, reduced quotas, and more detailed catch reporting. Sustainable management practices throughout the range of this panmictic species will be required to restore the eel as an abundant species in Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River.