Feds Mull Endangered Listing for American Eel

The federal government decided not to list the American eel as threatened or endangered in 2007. Photo: MFRO/USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has announced that the American eel may need federal protection as a threatened or endangered species. The decision was made following an initial review of a petition seeking to protect the species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

According to a USFWS press release, the decision, commonly known as a 90-day finding, is based on scientific information about the eel provided in a 2010 petition from the Council for Endangered Species Act Reliability and in the USFWS’s files.

The Service will begin an extensive status review for the American eel to determine if adding the species to the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife is warranted. A previous status review was conducted in 2007, finding that federal protection under the ESA was not warranted. The 2010 petition includes some information that became available after the 2007 review.

The American eel, found in freshwater, estuarine and marine habitats from Greenland to South America, has been extirpated from portions of its historical freshwater habitat during the last 100 years, mostly resulting from dams built through the 1960s. Habitat loss and degradation, harvest, and turbine mortality have also contributed to some local population declines.

The species’ unique life cycle, including its breeding phase in the Sargasso Sea, presents challenges to understanding and assessing biological and environmental processes that influence eels. New information indicates that changes in ocean conditions may be negatively impacting the eel’s reproduction rates.

An endangered listing for eels could affect recreational fishermen along the coast.

The Service is particularly seeking the following types of new information not known at the time of the 2007 status review:

  • species’ population structure (panmixia)
  • range-wide analysis of impacts from the parasitic nematode Anguillicola crassus
  • statistically significant long-term glass eel recruitment declines
  • correlation of climate change and glass eel recruitment.

Written comments on the proposed rule may be submitted by one of the following methods:

Federal eRulemaking Portal: Submitting Comments

Regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. [FWS-R5-ES-2011-0067].

U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. [FWS-R5-ES-2011-0067]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.

Comments must be received within 60 days, on or before November 28, 2011. The Service will post all comments on Regulations.gov . This generally means the agency will post any personal information provided through the process. The Service is not able to accept email or faxes.

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