Gatineau, July 13th, 2016. Ottawa Riverkeeper (Sentinelle de la rivière des Outaouais) released a handful of American eels at the mouth of Brewery Creek, in downtown Gatineau yesterday afternoon.
The eel release is part of a collaboration with the Canadian Wildlife Federation, and follows two years of research on the migration of the American eel in the Ottawa River. The ultimate goal is to improve the passage of eels at the first two hydroelectric dams on the Ottawa River – Carillon and Chaudière. Eel passages at these two strategic locations would reopen 200 km of their historic range. Brewery Creek is a potential natural bypass channel as it connects to the Ottawa River up and downstream of the Chaudière dams.
The eel is an endangered migratory species in Ontario and is likely to be designated vulnerable in Quebec. Eels are born in the Atlantic Ocean and juveniles swim upriver to spend their lives in freshwater –the inverse of well-known salmon migrations. Unfortunately, eel migrations are blocked by hydroelectric dams, because most eels cannot swim upstream over a dam or are killed in the turbines going downstream.
“Over 98% of the Ottawa River eel population has collapsed. In collaboration with several partners, including the Canadian Wildlife Federation, ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs of Quebec, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Hydro Ottawa and the City of Gatineau, we are determined to reverse this deplorable trend,” says Patrick Nadeau, Executive Director for Ottawa Riverkeeper. He explains: “Aquatic inventories from the 1980s documented eels in Brewery Creek, Gatineau. But since then, no studies have reported their presence. Our project, funded by City of Gatineau’s Green Fund, seeks to determine whether eels are continuing to try to use Brewery Creek to bypass the Chaudière dams in order to continue their migration upriver.”
“The eels we released are coming from the Beauharnois dam, located in the St. Lawrence River, where there is a fully functional eel ladder to aid upstream passage. Yesterday, we tagged 400 eels and released them in Hawkesbury, ON. We also just installed an eel ladder and a receiver at the base of the Brewery Creek Dam to assess if the tagged eels are trying to use Brewery Creek as a way around Chaudières,” explains Dr. Meaghan Murphy, biologist for Ottawa Riverkeeper.
“Restoring American Eel populations in the Ottawa River watershed will be critical to the recovery of the species in both Quebec and Ontario. There has been a lot of focus on how to improve passage at the large dams on the St. Lawrence; however, the Ottawa River has a large amount of relatively pristine habitat compared to the St. Lawrence as well as smaller dams that offer less costly options for improving passage. Research on ways to improve passage on Brewery Creek in old Hull is an important step toward recovering this unique endangered species,” says David Browne, Conservation Director at the Canadian Wildlife Federation.
The ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs of Québec sees this project as a priority for the recovery of the American eel in the region. Habitat loss and turbine mortality in hydroelectric facilities are the main causes of their decline. Using Brewery Creek as a migratory route for eels would give them access to a large area of habitat, which would be highly beneficial to the species.
If you find an eel:
Public support is needed to restore the species. If you find an eel, either dead or alive, please contact us. We need the following information:
- State (living or dead)
- Approximate size
- If caught when fishing: bait used, depth of water
- And a picture!
Did you know?
- All eels spawn in the Sargasso Sea, in the Atlantic Ocean.
- Most eels in the Ottawa River are female.
- The eels, or “Pimisi,” are historically a very important species for the Algonquin Nations.
- Over 98% of the Ottawa River eel population has disappeared.
- Of the 21 major dams on the Ottawa River, only one dam operator is currently making modifications to improve eel passage.
Ottawa Riverkeeper (Sentinelle de la rivière des Outaouais) is a citizen-based action group that brings people together to protect and promote the ecological health and diversity of the Ottawa River and its tributaries. Expert and independent, our organization advocates for responsible decision-making, public education, participation, access to information, and compliance with protective regulations, for the benefit of our river and our communities.
Patrick Nadeau, Executive Director
Adèle Michon, Dir. Of Operations for Quebec