American Eels Not Endangered, Feds Say

January 31, 2007 at 12:58 am Leave a comment

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — The American eel doesn’t need protection as an endangered species, according to a two-year review prompted by a petition from a janitor who had noticed eels getting stuck at dams near his favorite fishing spots.

Tim Watts of Middleborough filed the protection petition in 2004 with his brother, Doug. The research they did to support their suspicion that eels were in decline helped push the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to do a more thorough review.

But the government’s final analysis showed no evidence that the species is in danger of dying out.

”The eel population as a whole shows significant resiliency,” said Heather Bell, a fishery biologist stationed at the Fish and Wildlife Service’s office in Hadley.

There are a few pockets of trouble, most notably in the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River area, where large dams are blocking the eels’ path to spawn in the Sargasso Sea, an expanse of warm, algae-filled water east of Bermuda. Overfishing of the eels, which are often used as bait, has also led to a decline in the Chesapeake Bay.

Watts said he’s still not convinced eels don’t need special protections.

”If nothing else, it was important to put down a marker to say: ‘here is where someone saw something wrong and here is where someone stood up and said something,”’ he said. ”And no one can say they’re surprised in 20 years if the decline continues.”

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