International Governance of Fisheries Ecosystems: Learning from the Past, Finding Solutions for the Future

Chapter 14: Declines of American Eel in North America: Complexities Associated with Bi-national Management

Rob Mac Gregor, Alastair Mathers, Peter Thompson John M. Casselman, John M. Dettmers, Steven Lapan, Thomas C. Pratt, and Bill Allen

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569995.ch14

The decline of American eel Anguilla rostrata in many parts of its North American range is well documented, especially in the Great Lakes basin (Haro et al. 2000; Casselman 2003). We have chosen to include a short summary of the declines and associated causal factors, as some of the complexities associated with the decline are relevant to a discussion of American eel governance. In addition, we have included brief summaries of the geographic distribution of the eel fisheries in North America, harvest dynamics, impacts of globalization and the evolution of governance structures as necessary precursors to making recommendations on future governance for American eel.

While discussions periodically arise regarding whether American eel are truly panmictic (i.e., a single, nonstructured breeding population), the current science suggests that they are, and several of our arguments are based on this premise. It is difficult to see how this species could not be panmictic given our current biological understanding of American eel (e.g., all eels in the St. Lawrence River–Lake Ontario system are female), and the appropriate precautionary approach is to manage eels as if they are panmictic until contrary evidence is presented. We recognize that genetic investigations performed to date are spatially limited, and that further genetic work is underway. Regardless, we doubt that our proposed governance structure will require substantial modification.