Written by Meaghan Murphy
This past Tuesday, researchers from the University of Laval reported the first-ever successful tracking of an American eel from the Saint Lawrence River back to its breeding grounds off the coast of Bermuda in the Atlantic Ocean. The article published in Nature Communications, tracked a single mature female during her 2,400 km journey to the Sargasso Sea, which took 45 days. Until now, the return migration of eels from this northern river system had only been inferred, and the tracking has provided vital information into the migration path and potential cues this species uses to reach its final destination to spawn.
American eel on the Ottawa River
American eel once comprised up to 50% of the total fish biomass on the Ottawa River, playing an important ecological, economic, and cultural role within the watershed. Now the American eel is listed as an endangered species in Ontario. The 19 dams along the Ottawa River are largely responsible for the 90% decline in the population, serving as critical barriers to eel migration on the Ottawa River. Currently Hydro Ottawa is the only dam operator experimenting to improve eel passage – they have installed a temporary eel ladder at the Chaudiere Dam.
What ORK is doing to help the American eel
In July 2015, with financial support from Ottawa Wave Makers, Ottawa Riverkeeper and Canadian Wildlife Federation teamed up to host an Eel awareness day on the shore of the Ottawa River at Parliament Hill to educate families in the National Capital region about the endangered American eel, one of the capital’s intriguing links to oceans and ocean issues. Through a live eel installation that brought people face-to-face with eels from this region, interactive games and activities, educational posters, and conversations with eel researchers, over 300 people of all ages gained an appreciation for this unique animal that connects us to the Atlantic Ocean.
See our video report on eel day on Youtube (French translation to come).
In addition, staff scientist Meaghan Murphy assisted CWF and Quebec and Ontario environment ministries in the transfer of over 400 eels from the St. Lawrence River to the Ottawa River above the Carillion dam this July to help maintain existing eel populations in the river. Each eel was marked with a unique code that can identify them if/when they are recaptured to provide information on their movements in the future.
Finally, our network of riverwatchers continues to report sightings of live and dead eels on the river to ORK. We report this data to environmental managers at OMNRF who compile the information and use it to better understand eel distribution and mortality. This year our riverwatchers reported 4 sightings of eels on the river between Rockland, ON and Montebello, QC.
You can help too!
If you catch a live eel or find a dead one, take a picture, record your location and send it to Ottawa Riverkeeper! Want to go a step further? Bag your dead eel and bring it to Ottawa Riverkeeper so that researchers can determine their age.
[slickr-flickr items=”12″ type=”galleria” autoplay captions=”off” descriptions=”on” flickr_link=”on” flickr_link_title=”on” delay=”3″ flicker-link=”on” search=”sets” set=”72157657482475725″ items=”30″ flickr_link_target=”_blank”] See more photos from the event in our Flickr Album.