American Eels in Voyageur

Government agencies of both Ontario and Quebec, as well as hydropower producers,  Canadian Wildlife Federation, the Algonquin’s of Ontario, and other stakeholders are working together to restore the American eel (Anguilla rostrate) within its historic range in Ontario waters. Earlier this summer, over 400 juvenile eels (yellow eel) were collected from the eel-ladder at Hydro-Quebec’s Beauharnois Generating Station in Quebec and released in the Ottawa River at Voyageur Provincial Park. This marked the first assisted passage of American eel into the Ottawa River, and the beginning of a long journey to help restore populations of eel in the Ottawa River Watershed.

Historically American eel were extremely abundant in the Ottawa River and the Upper St. Lawrence/ Lake Ontario watersheds, comprising 50% or more of the freshwater biomass. The sheer numbers of eel in these rivers were said to have made the waters shimmer during their migrations. The eel lifecycle involves baby eels travelling from the eel breeding grounds in the Saragasso Sea (near Bahamas & Bermuda), to inland freshwaters from South America to  Greenland where they may spend a couple decades maturing. Once mature, the large adults (silver eel) migrate to the Atlantic Ocean and back to breeding grounds in the Saragasso. Outward migrations of eel provided Aboriginal peoples with a vital food source as well as material, medicinal and spiritual benefits. Early settlers to Ontario also took advantage of the abundance of eels for food.

However, in 2008, the American Eel in Ontario was listed as endangered under Ontario Endangered Species Act (ESA, 2007).  Few people today have ever even seen an eel! What happened to cause such a dramatic decline of the eel population? Throughout their lifespan eel are exposed to an accumulation of human-induced impacts including the biggest threat; hydroelectric dams. Other threats include habitat destruction, pollution, and commercial fisheries. These cumulative impacts have resulted in a decrease in the American eel population by 99% in 30 years.

 

The American eel is an important part of Ontario’s natural and cultural history, and an indicator of healthy aquatic ecosystems. In 2013, Ontario released the Recovery Strategy for the American eel, a document which outlines actions that are essential in order to protect and restore the eel in Ontario.  Many agencies, community organizations and Aboriginal groups are working together for the sake of the eel and its future in Ontario and beyond. How can you help the eel? Any information regarding eel and eel habitat is important. If you catch, or have caught an eel in the Ottawa River any of its tributaries, such as the Madawaska or Bonnechere Rivers, people want to know about it!  Please include as much of the following information as possible:

  • weight, length, girth
  • location (GPS if you have it, or approximate location using local landmarks)
  • depth of water and bottom type
  • bait or lure type
  •  time of day

You can send this information to the Ministry of Natural Resources:  Kirby.punt@ontario.ca or at (613) 732-5565 if you are north of Renfrew County or to joff.cote@ontario.ca or at (613) 258-8214 if you are in the Ottawa area.