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Marine Fisheries - 11 American Eel SSR 2016

Marine Fisheries

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American Eel

American Eel — 2016

Stock Status Depleted – The 2012 Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) benchmark stock assessment found the stock status of American eel to be depleted. A determination of overfishing could not be made, but the assessment indicated the stock is at or near historical lows. American eel are managed by the ASMFC in territorial seas and coastal waters along the Atlantic coast from Maine to Florida.

Average Commercial Landings and Value 2006-2015 – 56,153 lb. / $138,454

2015 Commercial Landings and Value – 57,791 lb. / $142,826

Average Recreational Landings – Not Available

Status of Fishery Management Plan (FMP) – American eel is included in the N.C. Interjurisdictional FMP, which defers to the ASMFC Interstate FMP for American Eel compliance requirements. The ASMFC initially approved the FMP in 1999. In February 2006, Addendum I was approved which required states to establish a mandatory trip-level catch and effort monitoring program, including the documentation of the amount of gear fished and soak time. Addendum II, approved in October 2008, maintained status quo on state management measures and placed increased emphasis on improving the upstream and downstream passage of American eel. In May 2012, the benchmark American eel stock assessment was completed and accepted for use in management. The ASMFC approved Addendum III in 2013, which increased the minimum size limit, decreased the recreational creel limit, and implemented seasonal closures for gear other than baited pots. Addendum IV, approved in October 2014, established state quotas for glass eel fisheries, a coast wide yellow eel quota, and addressed the issue of American eel aquaculture.

In 2010, the Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy, and Reliability petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to list American eel under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In September 2011, USFWS concluded the petition may be warranted and initiated a status review to assess the health of the population and the magnitude of threats facing the species.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reviewed the status of the American eel in 2007 and 2015, finding both times that Endangered Species Act protection for the American eel is not warranted.  After examining the best scientific and commercial information available about the American eel, the USFWS found the American eel population is stable. Nonetheless, for the species’ long-term stability, the USFWS recommends continuing efforts to maintain healthy habitats, monitor harvest levels, and improve river passage for migrating American eels.

Research and Data Needs – There is a need to acquire a solid understanding of the species distribution and abundance, commercial and recreational harvest, and a reliable stock assessment method. However, additional funding and personnel are required before these research needs can be adequately addressed.

2015 Regulations – New management measures dealing with yellow eels went into effect on January 1, 2014 under N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission (NCMFC) Rule 15A NCAC 03M .0510. These measures included a 9-inch total length (TL) minimum size limit for both the commercial and recreational fishery, a new bag limit for the recreational fishery (25 eels / person / day), and crew members involved in for-hire employment are allowed to maintain the current 50 eels / day bag limit for bait purposes. Also, a ½ by ½ inch minimum mesh requirement for the commercial fishery was established by NCMFC Rule 15A NCAC 03J .0301. Eel pots with an escape panel consisting of a 1 by ½ inch mesh are allowed until January 1, 2017.

Harvest Season – Year round, however, it is unlawful to possess American eels from September 1 through December 31 unless taken by baited pots.

Size and Age at Maturity – Males: 12 inches TL/4-8 yrs.; Females: 18 inches TL/7-12 yrs.

Maximum Age – 43 yrs.

Juvenile Abundance Index – Currently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) conducts the Beaufort Bridgenet Ichthyoplankton Sampling Program (BBISP), a year round ichthyoplankton survey at Beaufort Inlet which is used to develop a North Carolina young-of-year abundance index for American eel.  Because the BBISP is a generally unfunded program, a backlog of unsorted larval fish samples had arisen, and larval fish data were only available from 1985-2010.  A Coastal Recreational Fishing License grant was used to process the backlog, and the resulting data were incorporated into the recently revised and error-checked BBISP database, furthering the BBISP time series to 1985-2013.  BBISP sampling continues to occur, and additional funds will be sought to process the newly generated backlog of post-2013 samples so the most up-to-date data are available for use by resource managers.

Habits and Habitats – The American eel is a catadromous species requiring multiple habitats including: ocean, estuaries, fresh water streams, rivers and lakes. This catadromous life cycle requires a migration back to the Sargasso Sea to spawn, while spending the majority of its life in brackish and freshwater. Larvae develop at sea and change from glass eels into elvers in nearshore ocean waters and estuaries. Elvers either remain in the estuary or migrate upstream. At approximately two years of age individuals are considered to be in the yellow eel stage and resemble the adult form. This stage, on average, lasts from approximately five to 20 years. Yellow eels also inhabit estuaries and fresh water tributaries where they feed on invertebrates and smaller fish. They prefer areas with soft bottom and vegetation. The mature silver eel life stage occurs at the time of downstream migration, when they leave the estuary for the open ocean to spawn then die. This spawning migration occurs in the late summer and fall.

For more information, contact Todd Mathes at Todd.Mathes@ncdenr.gov or 800-338-7804 or 252-948-3872.

N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

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