Volunteers Needed to Study American Eels

Photo: Juvenile American eels
Juvenile American eels. They may look like snakes, but they are 100% fish. Photo: Uwe Kils, Wikimedia Commons

This week, a trio of organizations have asked the public to help gather data on one of New York City’s more slippery residents: the American eel (Anguilla rostrata). (We previously profiled the American eel as a Freshwater Species of the Week in August 2012.)

Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Marine Basin Marina have launched a project to monitor the eels, which have shown decline over much of coastal North America. Volunteers will collect information on the migratory fish in south Brooklyn between February and May 2014.freshwater species of the week

Citizen-scientists will count and collect juvenile eels, weigh them, and release them. They will attract the juvenile eels, called glass eels, by setting out “mops” in the water, small enclosures that the fish like to hide in. Then they will check the mops twice a week, while monitoring weather conditions.

In a statement, the groups said, “The American eel survey is an excellent opportunity for students interested in marine conservation careers or similar fields to gain valuable hands-on experience. Participants work with the New York Aquarium education team who enjoy sharing their knowledge with others while supporting the Wildlife Conservation Society’s mission to save wildlife and wild places locally and around the globe.”

As Water Currents’ Brian Richter said in 2012, “I’ve always been fascinated by the life cycle of the American eel  — they spawn at great depths in the Sargasso Sea, and then the gulfstream carries their young north into the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic shore of the eastern U.S., where they manage to make their way up the rivers.  Pretty phenomenal migration!”

American eels have been severely impacted by pollution, development, and erection of dams, which cut off many of their migration routes.

The American eel is being considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for listing as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The eels were an important food source for Native Americans and many species of wildlife. The slender fish are said to be good eating, although modern anglers are often put off by their slimy skin and snake-like appearance (they are still used as bait, however, which has also decreased their numbers). American eels feed on a range of crustaceans and other invertebrates, which they usually hunt for at night.


Brian Clark Howard is an Environment Writer and Editor at National Geographic News. He previously served as an editor for TheDailyGreen.com and E/The Environmental Magazine, and has written for TheAtlantic.com, FastCompany.com, PopularMechanics.com, Yahoo!, MSN, Miller-McCune and elsewhere. He is the co-author of six books, including Geothermal HVACGreen Lighting and Build Your Own Small Wind Power System.