Biologists trucked 58,344 migrating eels past four dams on the lower Susquehanna River this year and turned them loose upstream so they could complete their journey into upstream tributaries.What a long strange trip it was.
That was the least number of eels in the last four years — 275,479 were trucked upstream in 2013 alone — but an improvement over the early years of the effort.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began trucking eels upstream in 2008. It transported only 17,504 that year.
Normally, large numbers of eels move upstream in pulses, often coinciding with a new moon, said Steve Minkkinen, who heads the USFWS Maryland Fisheries Resources Office. But starting in late May, biologists saw a smaller, but steady, stream of eels crawling up the eelway set up just below Conowingo Dam, That stream continued through late July, then tapered off, he said.
“It’s not a terrible year,” Minkkinen said. “But most years, we see between two and five pulses of eels. It was a different year from our other seasons.”
The Susquehanna River was once home to huge numbers of eels, but dams built a century ago closed it to migration. Biologists began trucking eels caught below Conowingo Dam to several upstream tributaries, primarily Pine Creek and Buffalo Creek, in 2008 with hopes of re-establishing eel populations.
Follow-up surveys have shown that eels transported to those sites appear to be doing well, and are expanding to other locations, Minkkinen said. “It’s a good sign they are spreading out,” he said. “That is exactly what we want.”
With those creeks stocked, eels are now being released near Etters, PA, which is past the four hydroelectric dams but a bit south of Harrisburg.
“We have decided that we are going to take them from a riverine environment at the base of the dam, get them up above the four mainstem blockages as quickly as possible and put them back in to migrate like they were,” Minkkinen said. “Let them decide where they want to go.”