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Virginia Institute of Marine Science

American Eel Monitoring Program

  • Sampling
    Sampling
    Hank Brooks and Troy Tuckey of the American Eel Monitoring Program at VIMS count glass eels at Wormley Creek, a tributary of the York River.
  • pour.jpg
    Hank Brooks seives glass eels and elvers into a mesh screen in preparation for subsampling.
  • bucket_of_eels.jpg
    Glass eels and elvers in a bucket prior to counting.
  • Irish eel ramp
    Irish eel ramp
    VIMS researchers use "Irish eel ramps" to collect eels at all sites. The ramp slows down water flow to attract and capture small eels in tidal waters of Chesapeake Bay.
  • eel_ramp_inside.jpg
    The interior of the Irish Eel ramp contains a coarse mesh that helps the eels climb upward.
  • Sub-Sampling
    Sub-Sampling
    Mr. Hank Brooks of the American Eel Monitoring Program at VIMS counts glass eels at the program's sampling site at Wormley Creek, a tributary of the York River.

American eel (Anguilla rostrata) is a valuable commercial species along the Atlantic coast of North America from New Brunswick to Florida. In recent years, US coastal harvests have declined, with similar patterns occurring in the Canadian Maritime Provinces. Landings from Chesapeake Bay typically represent around 60% of the annual US commercial harvest.

In light of this decline, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) in 1999 adopted an Interstate Fishery Management Plan for the species. The plan focuses on increasing coastal states' efforts to collect American eel data through both fishery-dependent and fishery-independent studies.

The American Eel Monitoring Program at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) is Virginia's contribution to the fishery-independent component of the ASMFC's Interstate Fishery Management Plan. Each spring since 2000, VIMS researchers have been monitoring the migration of young-of-year American eels into Virginia's estuaries and freshwater tributaries, partnering with fisheries teams in other East Coast states to provide the first comprehensive picture of the eels' coast-wide population. Understanding the size and dynamics of the species' population is key to its effective management and protection.

Program Objectives
  1. Monitor the migration of glass eels  into Virginia's Chesapeake Bay tributaries to determine how it varies in time and space.
  2. Examine the environmental factors that may influence young-of-year eel recruitment.
  3. Collect basic biological information on recruiting eels, including length, weight, and pigment stage.