American Eel - 2013
Stock Status – Depleted – From the 2012 benchmark assessment the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) finds that the stock status for American eel is depleted. A determination of overfishing could not be made at this time but the assessment indicated stock is at or near historical lows.
Average Commercial Landings and Value 2003– 2012 – 76,121 lbs./$163,854
2012 Commercial Landings and Value – 66,580 lbs./$166,450
Average Recreational Landings – Not available
Status of Fisheries Management Plan (FMP) – American eel is included in the Interstate FMP, which defers to ASMFC FMP compliance requirements. The ASMFC initially approved a FMP in 1999. The approved February 2006 Addendum I 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. The ASMFC is considering new management measures in 2012 because current levels of fishing effort may still be too high given the additional stressors affecting the stock such as habitat loss, passage mortality, and disease. The ASMFC is currently considering management options for Addendum III to the Interstate FMP.
Research and Data Needs – There is the 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 met.
2012 Regulations –Commercial: 6 inches total length (TL) minimum size limit; mesh size restrictions on eel pots; bait limit of 50 eels/day; seasonal gear and area closures. Recreational: 6 inches TL minimum size limit; 50 eels/person/day;
Harvest Season – Year round
Size and Age at Maturity – Males: 12 inches TL/4–8 years; Females: 18 inches TL/7–12 years
Historical and Current Maximum Age – 43 years
Juvenile Abundance Index 2004 – 2008 –17.2, 2010 – N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries sampling eliminated due to budget cuts in 2009. NOAA bridge net survey data may be used to develop a new North Carolina juvenile abundance index for American eel; a CRFL grant was received to process the backlog of samples. However, other resources will be needed to ensure future samples can be processed.
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 classified as 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, leaving the estuary for the open ocean to spawn then die. Seaward migration occurs in late summer and fall.
For more information, contact Garry Wright at Garry.Wright@ncdenr.gov or 800-338-7804 or 252-946-6481.