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Virginia Institute of Marine Science

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American Eel (Anguilla rostrata) is a valuable commercial species along the Atlantic coast of North America from New Brunswick to Florida. In the U.S., harvests have declined, with similar patterns occurring in the Canadian Maritime Provinces (Meister and Flagg 1997). An average of 62% of the annual landings of U.S. commercial harvest since 1993 have come from the Chesapeake Bay (personal communication from the National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics Division, 9 February 2015). In 2013, Virginia commercial landings were approximately 100,298 lbs; since mandatory reporting began in 1993, average annual landings in Virginia have been 193,200 lbs or 19% of the U.S. American Eel harvest (personal communication from the National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics Division, 9 February 2015).

A decline in abundance of American Eel has been observed in recent years with conflicting evidence regarding spatial synchrony throughout their range (Richkus and Whalen 1999; Sullivan et al. 2006). Hypotheses for the decline in abundance include shifts in location of the Gulf Stream, pollution, overfishing, parasites, altered oceanic conditions, and barriers to fish passage (Castonguay et al. 1994; Haro et al. 2000; Knights 2003). Additionally, factors such as unfavorable wind‐driven currents may affect glass eel recruitment on the continental shelf and may have a greater impact than fishing mortality or continental climate change (Knights 2003). However, limited knowledge about fundamental biological characteristics of glass eels has complicated interpretation of juvenile abundance trends (Sullivan et al. 2006).

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) adopted the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for the American Eel in November 1999. The FMP calls for efforts to collect American Eel data through both fishery‐dependent and fishery‐independent studies in coastal states. Consequently, member jurisdictions agreed to implement an annual survey for young‐of‐year (YOY or glass) American Eels. The survey is intended to “…characterize trends in annual recruitment of the YOY eels over time [to produce a] qualitative appraisal of the annual recruitment of American Eel to the U.S. Atlantic Coast” (ASMFC 2000). The development of these surveys began in 2000 with full implementation by 2001. Survey results provide necessary data on coastal recruitment success and further understanding of American Eel population dynamics. A recent American Eel benchmark stock assessment report found that the American Eel stock status is depleted and emphasized the importance of the coastwide survey as an index of recruitment over the historical coastal range in the U.S. and an early warning of potential range contraction of the species (ASMFC 2012). In 2016, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science continued its spring sampling to estimate relative abundance of YOY American Eels in Virginia tributaries of Chesapeake Bay.


Final Report for Project No. RF/CF 15-01



American eel -- Virginia; American eel -- Chesapeake Bay (Md. and Va.); Eel fisheries -- Virginia;



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