last year a coastwide benchmark stock assessment called the American eel population in U.S. waters "depleted." It blamed an array of factors, including overfishing, predation, turbine deaths from hydroelectric dams, changes in the food web, pollution and disease. Fluctuating market prices can also cause commercial landings to flounder.It used to be common (and a righteous pain in the ass) to catch an eel while bottom fishing, especially at dusk or after dark. Now it's all but unheard of. They sold eels cheap as striped bass bait, now most get sent to Japan and Europe where they command high prices as human fare. I never developed a taste for them.
The Chesapeake Bay has typically yielded 63 percent of the annual U.S. commercial harvest of American eel, Tuckey said. But in 2007 commercial landings in Virginia and Maryland represented only 52 percent.
"There are lots of different data sources that show that abundances are down," said Tuckey.
In response, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, an interstate regulatory board headquartered in Virginia, tasked its American Eel Management Board to suggest ways to better protect the stock. Options range from maintaining the status quo all the way to shutting down eel fisheries. A vote is expected on a final plan at the commission's August 7 meeting in Alexandria.Sounds good to me. Stop the commercial fishing, and fix any habitat problems (especially dams) which inhibit their recovery.
Meantime, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is under court order to decide by Sept. 30, 2015, whether the American eel should be protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.
A long-term decline in eel harvests, combined with tighter export restrictions on European eels and higher demand in China and other Asian countries for live glass eels for aquaculture stock, has jacked up the price and bred a lucrative market for poachers, experts say.With an incentive like that, you can expect massive illegal harvest.
Two years ago, a pound of harvested glass eels commanded the "gold rush" market price of about $300 a pound. Today, a pound can bring more than $2,000.
"It is potentially as profitable as illegal drugs, and it is definitely a concern," said John Bull, spokesman for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, or VMRC, which provides funding for Tuckey's research. "We are keeping a close watch on the situation."