The Charis­matic Eel

Once a dom­i­nant species in the Ot­tawa River — hav­ing trav­elled all the way from the Sar­gasso Sea — lo­cal eels are now in se­ri­ous de­cline. A re­cent col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort to be­gin mod­i­fy­ing lethal power dams to help them get home safely may be their last hop

Canadian Wildlife - - NEWS - By Brian Banks Il­lus­tra­tion by Lynn Scur­field

Once a dom­i­nant species in the Ot­tawa River — hav­ing trav­elled all the way from the Sar­gasso Sea — lo­cal eels are now in se­ri­ous de­cline. A re­cent col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort among nat­u­ral­ists, com­mu­nity, gov­ern­ment and in­dus­try to be­gin mod­i­fy­ing lethal power dams may be their last hope to get home safely

IT’S A LONG­STAND­ING DE­BATE IN CON­SER­VA­TION CIR­CLES: HOW MUCH to em­pha­size pro­tect­ing “charis­matic species” like po­lar bears, wolves and whales ver­sus fo­cus­ing on all threat­ened wildlife and their habi­tats?

From a fundrais­ing per­spec­tive, high-pro­file crea­tures at­tract more pub­lic sup­port. But there’s also an im­por­tant eco­log­i­cal case to be made that sav­ing top preda­tors and other once-abun­dant, dom­i­nant species has greater ul­ti­mate value. Not only do these an­i­mals typ­i­cally have the largest ranges, but ecosys­tems have been shown to be far health­ier when they are present.

All of which makes the Amer­i­can eel (Anguilla ros­trata) an in­ter­est­ing co­nun­drum. Hatched from eggs laid in the Sar­gasso Sea in the mid-at­lantic Ocean, its range in Canada as a ju­ve­nile and adult in­cludes east coast es­tu­ar­ies and fresh­wa­ter lakes and rivers ac­ces­si­ble from the At­lantic as far west as Lake On­tario and the Ot­tawa River. In On­tario, the Amer­i­can eel, which lives about 25 years on av­er­age, was once among the most com­mon fish species. But since the 1970s, its pop­u­la­tion has fallen by an es­ti­mated 99 per cent. The pri­mary fac­tor: dams and power gen­er­at­ing sta­tions built on the St. Lawrence and Ot­tawa rivers and in most large trib­u­taries. They im­pede the up­river mi­gra­tion of ju­ve­nile eels and chew

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