Thursday, February 01, 2007

American eels not endangered

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - The American eel doesn't need protection as an
endangered species, according to a two-year review prompted by a
petition from a janitor who had noticed eels getting stuck at dams
near his favorite fishing spots.

Tim Watts of Middleborough filed the protection petition in 2004
with his brother, Doug. The research they did to support their
suspicion that eels were in decline helped push the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service to do a more thorough review. But the government's
final analysis showed no evidence that the species is in danger of
dying out.

"The eel population as a whole shows significant resiliency," said
Heather Bell, a fishery biologist stationed at the Fish and Wildlife
Service's office in Hadley.

There are a few pockets of trouble, most notably in the Lake Ontario
and St. Lawrence River area, where large dams are blocking the eels'
path to spawn in the Sargasso Sea, an expanse of warm, algae-filled
water east of Bermuda. Overfishing of the eels, which are often used
as bait, has also led to a decline in the Chesapeake Bay.

Watts said he's still not convinced eels don't need special
protections. "If nothing else, it was important to put down a marker
to say: 'here is where someone saw something wrong and here is where
someone stood up and said something,'" he said. "And no one can say
they're surprised in 20 years if the decline continues."

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