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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - 11 American Eels SSR 2015

Marine Fisheries

American Eel

American Eel — 2015

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 2005-2014 – 55,115 lbs./$134,342

2014 Commercial Landings and Value – 58,886 lbs./$159,727

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 FMP compliance requirements. The ASMFC initially approved an 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 (CESAR) 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. However, in August 2012, CESAR filed a lawsuit against USFWS for failure to publish a proposed rule within the timeframe specified by the ESA. A Settlement Agreement was approved in April 2013, which requires USFWS to publish its proposed rule by September 30, 2015.

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.

2014 Regulations – New management measures dealing with yellow eels went into effect on January 1, 2014 under Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) 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 MFC 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.

Historical and Current Maximum Age – 43 yrs.

Juvenile Abundance Index 2004-2008 – The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries young-of-year (YOY) American eel sampling was eliminated in 2009 due to budget cuts. Currently, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) conducts a year round ichthyoplankton survey at Beaufort Inlet which will 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. In the future, other resources will be needed to ensure the YOY eel 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 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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