Ottawa, July 10th, 2017. Ottawa Riverkeeper (Sentinelle de la rivière des Outaouais) will release 400 American eels on the shores of Petrie Island, Ottawa ON, on July 12, 2017.
This eel release is part of a collaboration with the Canadian Wildlife Federation, with the ultimate goal of improving 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.
Once abundant in the Ottawa River, the American eel is now endangered.
“Over 98% of the Ottawa River population has now collapsed,” says Patrick Nadeau, Executive Director for Ottawa Riverkeeper. “We can’t stand by idly while the last eels – a very important species, particularly for First Nations – disappear from our watershed.”
This is largely due to dams along the Ottawa River.
An eel’s migration is fraught with obstacles. Spawning in the Sargasso Sea, they swim up the Atlantic coast, entering the St. Lawrence to reach the Ottawa River – their new home for up to 25 years. Unfortunately, of the 19 major dams on the Ottawa River, only one dam operator is currently making modifications to improve eel passage, meaning many eels are killed during migration.
As they travel up the Ottawa River, most eels cannot pass through the dams on their own, effectively stopping their migration. The few who do make it are often killed by dam turbines on the return trip.
Hydro-Ottawa has installed an eel ladder and turbine by-passes at the Chaudière dam this past year. As they begin operation, we hope to see an increased number of eels making their way up the river, as well as back towards the Atlantic Ocean.
A stopgap measure
“The eels we’re releasing are coming from the Hydro-Québec Beauharnois dam, located in the St. Lawrence River, where there is a fully functional eel ladder to aid upstream passage. Transporting the eels allows them to bypass the Carillon Dam, a major obstacle to their migration upstream. We hope to tag at least 400 eels and release them from Petrie Island, which will help us understand where we can best help this species,” explains Adèle Michon, director of operations in Quebec for Ottawa Riverkeeper.
Despite the valuable information provided by the trap, transfer, and re-release, it is only a temporary measure.
While the American Eel has been declared endangered by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, the Ontario government has yet to release its Government Response Statement on how to recover this species. After many delays, the statement is eagerly expected this summer.
Moving forward together
While the human-assisted migration of eels will hopefully buy time for the American eel in the Ottawa River watershed, the ultimate solution is a major improvement to dam infrastructure.
“In collaboration with several partners, including the Canadian Wildlife Federation, the ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs of Quebec, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Ontario Power Generation, Hydro Ottawa and Hydro-Québec, we are determined to reverse this deplorable trend,” says Nadeau. Ottawa Riverkeeper and the CWF also hope that events such as these will increase awareness and continue to push for infrastructure upgrades in the Ottawa River.
“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,” says David Browne, Conservation Director at the Canadian Wildlife Federation.
The public and the media are invited to join Ottawa Riverkeeper for the release of eels at Petrie Island from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
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 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.
About Ottawa Riverkeeper:
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.
About the Canadian Wildlife Federation:
The Canadian Wildlife Federation is a national, not-for-profit charitable organization dedicated to fostering awareness and appreciation of our natural world. By spreading knowledge of human impacts on the environment, carrying out research, developing and delivering education programs, promoting the sustainable use of natural resources, recommending changes to policy and co-operating with like-minded partners, CWF encourages a future in which Canadians can live in harmony with nature. For more information visit CanadianWildlifeFederation.ca.
Thank you to our generous sponsors: McLean Foundation, Canadian Wildlife Foundation, and Gosling Foundation.
Director Of Operations for Quebec
Senior Conservation Biologist
Canadian Wildlife Federation
613-599-9594 ext 219
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