Document Type



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date



American Eel (Anguilla rostrata) is a valuable commercial species along the Atlantic coast of North America from New Brunswick to Florida. Landings from Chesapeake Bay typically represent 60% of the annual United States commercial harvest (ASMFC 2012). American Eel is also important to the recreational fishery as it is often used live as bait for Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis) and Cobia (Rachycentron canadum). In 2016, Chesapeake Bay commercial landings of American Eel (728,717 lbs) were 78% of the U.S. landings (personal communication from the National Marine Fisheries Service, Fisheries Statistics Division). Since the 1980s, harvest along the U.S. Atlantic Coast has declined, with similar patterns occurring in the Canadian Maritime Provinces (Meister and Flagg 1997). The American Eel Benchmark Stock Assessment report (ASMFC 2012) established that the American Eel is depleted in U.S. waters; the 2017 stock assessment update (ASMFC 2017) confirmed that this population remains depleted.

Hypotheses for the decline in abundance of American Eel in recent years include locational shifts in the Gulf Stream, pollution, overfishing, parasites, and barriers to fish passage (Castonguay et al. 1994; Haro et al. 2000). The decline in abundance may or may not exhibit spatial synchrony (Richkus and Whalen 1999; Sullivan et al. 2006); 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). Limited knowledge about fundamental biological characteristics of juvenile American Eel 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 focuses on increasing coastal states’ efforts to collect American Eel data through both fishery‐dependent and fishery‐independent studies. Consequently, member jurisdictions agreed to implement an annual survey for young‐of‐year (YOY) 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 3 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 should provide necessary data on coastal recruitment success and further understanding of American Eel population dynamics. The recent American Eel Benchmark Stock Assessment report (ASMFC 2012) emphasized the importance of the coast‐wide survey for providing data useful in calculating an index of recruitment over the historical coastal range and for serving as an early warning of potential range contraction of the species. Funding for the Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s spring survey in the Potomac River was provided by the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, thereby ensuring compliance with the 1999 ASMFC Interstate Fishery Management Plan for American Eels.



Eels, fisheries

Publication Statement

In press.



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