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
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