DEC Celebrates 14th Year of Juvenile Eel Monitoring

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DEC Celebrates 14th Year of Juvenile Eel Monitoring

Area Teachers and Students Join DEC to Count Hudson River Eels

All along the Hudson River estuary, teachers, students, and local residents will be donning waders and venturing into tributary streams to participate in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) ongoing research on migrating juvenile American eels (Anguilla rostrata), DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos announced today.

"New York is home to significant habitat that is critical to the life-cycle of many migratory fish species," said Commissioner Seggos. "The Hudson River Eel Project is an excellent way to connect students and local residents with nature while gathering data that can be valuable for the future study of this species and its role in our ecosystem."

Now in its 14th year, the project was initiated by the Hudson River Estuary Program and Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve to gather data for multi-state management plans for eel conservation. Eel collection takes place at most sites daily from early April through mid-May. Since the project began, volunteers have caught, counted, and released more than one million juvenile eels into upstream habitat.

This spring, students, teachers, local residents, and DEC staff and partner organizations will monitor glass eels at 10 sites on the Hudson River from New York Harbor to the Capital Region, following strict COVID-19 safety protocols to prevent the community spread of the coronavirus. All sampling is conducted outdoors, with masks and social distancing required. School and youth groups are limited to a maximum of four, along with two adult supervisors. Participating family groups are limited to four people.

American eels have one of the most unusual life cycles of any fish. The eels are hatched in the Sargasso Sea north of Puerto Rico, and every spring arrive in estuaries like the Hudson River as translucent, two-inch-long "glass eels." DEC and students check 10-foot, cone-shaped nets (fyke nets) specifically designed to catch these small eels during this life stage. Student researchers then count and release the glass eels back into the water and record environmental data on temperature and tides. Most of the eels are released above dams, waterfalls, and other barriers so that the eels have better access to habitat. Eels will live in freshwater rivers and streams and for up to 30 years before returning to the sea to spawn.

Coastal states from Florida to Maine monitor the young-of-the-year migrations of American eels, using the protocols of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Hudson River eel project participants are trained in these field collection protocols to ensure useful data is collected. Virtual classroom visits by DEC educators help bring the project alive to thousands of students.

The photos below, courtesy of DEC, showcase the eel project. For more information on the project, visit DEC's website.

small transparent eels in a little net
Glass eels are gently counted individually from the net
into a bucket of stream water.

eels in a clear bag ready for release
Glass eels and larger elvers caught in the net are released
above dams, culverts, and other barriers to migration.

Three people wearing masks pose with bag of eels for a photo
Eel nets are checked by DEC educators, partners, and volunteers
while masking and respecting social distance.

person sitting in cone-shaped net in water
Special cone-shaped nets are installed along one bank to catch
just some of the eels coming upstream.

Educator holds phone for live-stream video
Even when students could not get to sites due to COVID restrictions,
DEC educators connected with classrooms live from the eel nets.

volunteers help count eels on the river's edge
Students and other volunteers are important
community scientists in this project.

https://www.dec.ny.gov/press/press.html

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Basil Seggos, Commissioner

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