Tag Archives: nyfo

The American eel: Tale of a champion migrator

The American eel spawns and hatches in the ocean waters of the Sargasso Sea, near Bermuda, about 2 million square miles of warm water in the North Atlantic.


Map of Sargasso Sea in relation to NYS, USFWS

The larvae of this snake-like fish drift with the currents for about a year to find homes throughout their huge range, from Greenland to Venezuela. Many eels migrate north and make it all the way to Lake Ontario.

A champion migrator if I’ve ever seen one.

Eels go through a very complicated maturation process that usually takes them from oceanic waters to freshwater and then back to the ocean for spawning. Some eels remain in saltwater or estuaries like the Chesapeake Bay their entire lives.

If you need a reason to conserve these amazing marathon swimmers, then here are some pretty unique behaviors to keep in mind. Eels can absorb oxygen through their skin and gills, allowing them to travel over land, particularly wet grass or mud (so cool!). Eels also can cover their entire bodies with a mucous layer, making them nearly impossible to capture by hand.

Historically, eels were abundant in Lake Ontario with over 1 million documented annually migrating upstream at the Moses-Saunders Hydropower Dam on the St. Lawrence River. In 2001, there was a huge drop to 944 migrants. Numbers have increased in the last decade, but are still below 50,000, leaving biologists looking for answers.

The extreme population decline may have been fueled by the 1970s demand for yellow and silver life stages of the American eel. Harvest can be especially detrimental because of the eel’s slow and complex maturation process, but the definite cause of the decline is still not clear.

American eels no longer have access to much of their historical habitat because dams and other obstructions in rivers block their migration and prevent them from accessing all available habitat. Localized population declines are also attributed to mortality in hydropower plant turbines, degradation of current habitat, and overharvest.

Addressing these threats to the American eel and its conservation is a multifaceted approach which includes research and monitoring to increase eel access to former habitat and understand the mysterious spawning migration, as well as reducing anthropogenic mortality.

Organizations including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, New York State Department of Conservation, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests, the Quebec Ministry of Forests, Wildlife, and Parks, the New York Power Authority, Hydro Quebec, and Ontario Power Generation have targeted projects to develop methods to safely pass eel around hydro dams on large rivers.

Within New York State, our field office has partnered to track eel migration in the St. Lawrence River. Eels are tagged with acoustic tags in the Bay of Quinte (on the north shore of Lake Ontario). They then travel downstream along the St. Lawrence River and can be tracked with receivers located at the Iroquois Dam, about 80 miles downriver. That migration usually takes place in late summer or early fall when the eels are maturing from their yellow form to a beautifully elegant silver mature stage.

EelMapIWCD2 (1)

Documented eel movements at the Iroquois Dam in NYS, USFWS

In collaboration with other natural resource agencies, the Service continues to work to mitigate adverse impacts to eels. These measures are specified during the licensing or relicensing of hydropower projects by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commision and can include the addition of facilities like eel ladders to safely pass eels upstream, screens to keep eels out of turbines, passageways to guide them downstream, or shutting turbines down at night when silver eels migrate.


Service biologists collecting eel receivers on the St. Lawrence River, USFWS

Eel ladders, which are designed specifically for this species, allow eels to swim over barriers using an ascending ramp. Eel migration is monitored at various areas both upstream and downstream to help understand and optimize eel passage inland and to the ocean.

Other conservation actions include restrictions on eel harvest by the United States and by the federal and provincial governments in Canada.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues to work with partners to better understand and conserve this remarkable species. The more informed we can be about the species around us, the better we are able to makes conscious choices to conserve and protect wildlife and the ecosystems in which we all live.


Thankful for the Endangered Species Act

The most important reason to be thankful for the ESA is because of the results it achieves. Since the ESA was passed in 1973, it has saved 99 percent of the species protected by it from extinction.

I'm Bethany Holbrook, and I work at our New York Field Office. You'll be hearing from me every week! Stay tuned for tales from the great state of New York. USFWS photo with Bethany holding a bog turtle

I’m Bethany Holbrook, and I volunteer at our New York Field Office. You’ve heard from me every week for several months as I share tales from the great state of New York.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, I would like to pay tribute to the work of conservationists in our agency and other resource agencies working to recover at-risk species.

Without the work of these biologists, we couldn’t celebrate the recovery of some of our favorite wildlife species, nor protect others from extinction.

This year, the Endangered Species Act celebrates its 40th anniversary; forty years of protecting imperiled species and their ecosystems.

Sure, the species listing and delisting process can be long and sometimes confusing, but it gives us a reason to celebrate our gratitude for the biologists that uphold this important Act and the species they help save.

Endangered Species Act Display

Did you know that you can propose an animal or plant for protection under the ESA? Any member of the public can do so at any time.

News_fall_web_Page_01Through our candidate assessment process, biologists annually assess and then identify species most in need of the ESA’s protection.

Species are considered for listing based on their population status and the threats.

Sometimes the Service has enough information to suggest that a species warrants protection under the ESA, but first must use its resources to address other species with higher conservation needs, as well as meet court-approved settlement agreements.

Those species become “candidates” for listing. Though candidates do not receive official protection under the ESA, their status often brings federal, state, and private resource agencies together to improve habitat and reduce or remove threats so that the species’ status is improved.

Exhibit ES2 small

Before a species can receive protection under the ESA, it must first be added to the federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife or the List of Endangered and Threatened Plants.

These lists contain the names of all species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, insects, plants, and other creatures that have been determined by the Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-Fisheries to be in the greatest need of federal protection.

A species is added to the list if any of the following factors cause it to become threatened or endangered:

  • the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range;
  • overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes;
  • disease or predation;
  • the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or
  • the natural or manmade factors affecting its survival.

See the list of species in New York that are listed as threatened, endangered, proposed for listing, or candidate species. See a list of the species that have been delisted.

The Service and its partners are achieving great successes for the many species that are protected by the ESA. Check out stories by state on our interactive map! We’ve added to our Northeast states all year as part of the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the ESA.

The ESA has given us a lot to be thankful for; a gift that will last for generations, thanks to the people who uphold it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

That's me on the right, standing with endangered species biologist Robyn Niver. Credit: USFWS

Goodbye and thank you!

That's me on the right, standing with endangered species biologist Robyn Niver. Credit: USFWS

I’m Bethany Holbrook (on the right), and I’ve been sharing stories from our New York Field Office. You’ve heard from me every week for four months, and I’m now moving on from my work there. Here I’m holding a threatened bog turtle and standing with endangered species biologist Robyn Niver. Credit: USFWS

I’m sad to share with you today that I’ll be moving on from my work at the New York Field Office.

Working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been one of the greatest experiences I’ve had.

They have provided me with numerous encounters with rare species, exciting field work and supportive personnel.

I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in the New York Field Office with a group of highly motivated and encouraging conservation professionals. They are wonderful people to work with, which makes it very difficult for me to leave.

That's me holding a juvenile lake sturgeon. Here's my post about it. Credit: USFWS https://usfwsnortheast.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/sturgeon-stocking-success/

That’s me holding a juvenile lake sturgeon. Here’s my post about it. Credit: USFWS

Four months is not a long time to work with an organization, but I have learned so many new skills and important lessons in that time. I would like to share them with you:

  • Collaboration is key: Teamwork is always important in any problem-solving situation, and handling conservation issues is no different. In addition to the support of many biologists and multiple resource agencies, conservationists rely heavily on the public and private landowners to gain access to a large portion of otherwise restricted restoration locations.
  • Restoration takes TIME: As with any project, results usually take a long time, especially when those results are minuscule along the road to recovery. Patience and dedication to a project turns those mini impacts into milestones.
  • Hands-on learning is most effective: You learn and retain much more information when you can rely on all of your senses to strengthen your memory. I would not have had such a memorable experience had I not gone out in the field with biologists to assist with field work.
  • Love what you do: Your work ethic shines through in your job, especially if you love what you’re doing. Pick a career and a concentration that you love, so you will enjoy it and excel at it.
This is Sandie Doran, a biologist with the New York Field Office. Credit: USFWS

This is Sandie Doran, a biologist with the New York Field Office. Credit: USFWS

I would like to thank all of you at the New York Field Office for my exciting experiences in the field, and most importantly, your support and encouragement. And for those of you that have kept up with my posts, thank you for lending me your ear and your support!

I have never met a group of people that truly love their jobs as much as the staff at the New York Field Office. This dedication is visible in every aspect of their job, and makes working with them a pleasure.

Thank you for everything, and I will miss you all!