The American eel may need federal protection as a threatened or endangered species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced today, following an initial review of a petition seeking to protect the species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Today’s decision, commonly known as a 90-day finding, is based on scientific information about the eel provided in a 2010 petition from the Council for Endangered Species Act Reliability and in the Service’s files.
The Service will begin an extensive status review for the American eel to determine if adding the species to the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife is warranted. A previous status review was conducted in 2007, finding that federal protection under the ESA was not warranted. The 2010 petition includes some information that became available after the 2007 review.
The American eel, found in freshwater, estuarine and marine habitats from Greenland to South America, has been extirpated from portions of its historical freshwater habitat during the last 100 years, mostly resulting from dams built through the 1960s. Habitat loss and degradation, harvest, and turbine mortality have also contributed to some local population declines.
The species’ unique life cycle, including its breeding phase in the Sargasso Sea, presents challenges to understanding and assessing biological and environmental processes that influence eels. New information indicates that changes in ocean conditions may be negatively impacting the eel’s reproduction rates.
The Service is particularly seeking the following types of new information not known at the time of the 2007 status review: species’ population structure (panmixia); range-wide analysis of impacts from the parasitic nematode Anguillicola crassus; statistically significant long-term glass eel recruitment declines; and the correlation of climate change and glass eel recruitment.