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DEC announces start of 15th year of juvenile eel monitoring

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

“New York is home to significant habitat critical to the lifecycles of many migratory fish species,” said Commissioner Seggos. “Now in its 15th year, DEC’s Hudson River Eel Project is an excellent way to connect students and local residents with nature while gathering data to advance the study of American eels and this species’ role in our ecosystem.”

DEC’s Hudson River Estuary Program and Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve initiated the project to gather data for multi-state management plans for eel conservation. Eel collection takes place daily at most sites from mid-March to mid-May. Since the project’s inception, volunteers have caught, counted, and released more than one million juvenile eels into upstream habitat. This spring, students, local volunteers, DEC staff, and partner organizations will monitor glass eels at 12 sites on the Hudson River from New York Harbor to the Capital Region.

American eels have one of the most unusual life cycles of any fish. 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 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 Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission protocols. Hudson River eel project participants are trained in these field collection protocols to ensure useful data collection.

New Yorkers interested in volunteering for the eel project, are advised to email [email protected]. For more information, visit DEC’s website or watch the eel project video on DEC’s YouTube channel.