Ottawa Riverkeeper Releases 400 Eels into the Ottawa River

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american eel

Earlier this month, Ottawa Riverkeeper released 400 American eels on the shores of Petrie Island, Ottawa ON.

The eel release held on July 12 is part of a collaboration with the Canadian Wildlife Federation, with the ultimate goal of improving the passage of eels at the first two hydroelectric dams on the Ottawa River, Carillon and Chaudière. Eel passages at these two strategic locations would reopen 200 km of their historic range.

Once abundant in the Ottawa River, the American eel is now endangered. Gone are the days when being in the river meant spotting an eel or two (at least). Instead, we’ve seen a dramatic decrease in their population. Many people haven’t spotted a live eel in decades.

Ottawa Riverkeeper is working hard to change that.

An eel’s migration is fraught with danger. Spawning in the Sargasso sea, they swim up the Atlantic coast, entering the St. Lawrence to reach the Ottawa River – their new home for up to 50 years.

They are already a few years old by the time they get to our watershed. Unfortunately, almost all the dams on the Ottawa River watershed are not equipped with fish ladders or fish friendly turbines, meaning dams are the main cause of their rapid decline.

Ottawa Riverkeeper has already seen some success in this regard, with the Chaudière dam installing an eel ladder and fish friendlier turbines this past year. As they begin operation, we hope to see an increased number of eels beginning to make their way back towards the Atlantic Ocean.

“Over 98% of the Ottawa River eel population has collapsed. In collaboration with several partners, including the Canadian Wildlife Federation, ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs of Quebec, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Hydro Ottawa and Hydro-Québec, we are determined to reverse this deplorable trend,” says Patrick Nadeau, Executive Director for Ottawa Riverkeeper.

“The eels we released are coming from the Beauharnois dam, located in the St. Lawrence River, where there is a fully functional eel ladder to aid upstream passage. We hope to tag at least 400 eels and release them from Petrie Island, which will help us understand where we can best help this species,” explains Adèle Michon, director of operations in Quebec for Ottawa Riverkeeper.

“Restoring American Eel populations in the Ottawa River watershed will be critical to the recovery of the species in both Quebec and Ontario. There has been a lot of focus on how to improve passage at the large dams on the St. Lawrence; however, the Ottawa River has a large amount of relatively pristine habitat compared to the St. Lawrence as well as smaller dams that offer less costly options for improving passage,” says David Browne, Conservation Director at the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

“Restoring this species is integral to the health of our river,” says Nadeau. “This trap and transfer will help us work towards that end.”

If you find an eel:

Public support is needed to restore the species. If you find an eel, either dead or alive, please contact us. We need the following information:

*  Location
*  State (living or dead)
*  Approximate size
*  If caught when fishing: bait used, depth of water
*  And a picture!

Did you know?

*  All eels spawn in the Sargasso Sea, in the Atlantic Ocean.
*  Most eels in the Ottawa River are female.
*  The eels, or “Pimisi,” are historically a very important species for the Algonquin Nations.
*  Over 98% of the Ottawa River eel population has disappeared.
*  Of the 21 major dams on the Ottawa River, only one dam operator is currently making modifications to improve eel passage.

About Ottawa Riverkeeper:

Ottawa Riverkeeper (Sentinelle de la rivière des Outaouais) is a citizen-based action group that brings people together to protect and promote the ecological health and diversity of the Ottawa River and its tributaries.  Expert and independent, our organization advocates for responsible decision-making, public education, participation, access to information, and compliance with protective regulations, for the benefit of our river and our communities.

About the Canadian Wildlife Federation:

The Canadian Wildlife Federation is a national, not-for-profit charitable organization dedicated to fostering awareness and appreciation of our natural world. By spreading knowledge of human impacts on the environment, carrying out research, developing and delivering education programs, promoting the sustainable use of natural resources, recommending changes to policy and co-operating with like-minded partners, CWF encourages a future in which Canadians can live in harmony with nature.

Photo: Clinton & Charles Robertson (cc)
Release source: Canadian Wildlife Federation