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Evaluating Recruitment of American Eel, Anguilla rostrata, in the Potomac River (Spring 2010)

Abstract

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) adopted the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for the American eel in November 1999. The FMP focuses on increasing coastal states’ efforts to collect American eel data through both fishery-dependent and fishery-independent studies. Consequently, member jurisdictions agreed to implement an annual survey for young of year (YOY) American eels. The survey is intended to “…characterize trends in annual recruitment of the YOY eels over time [to produce a] qualitative appraisal of the annual recruitment of American eel to the U.S. Atlantic Coast” (ASMFC 2000). The development of these surveys began in 2000 with full implementation by 2001. Survey results should provide necessary data on coastal recruitment success and further understanding of American eel Introduction American eel (Anguilla rostrata) is a valuable commercial species along the Atlantic coast of North America from New Brunswick to Florida. Landings from Chesapeake Bay typically represent 63% of the annual United States commercial harvest (ASMFC 2000). In 2007, Virginia commercial landings (196,853 lbs) were 70% of the average annual landings in VA since mandatory reporting began (1993) and 23.6% of the US landings (ASMFC 2008; VMRC 2008). Since the 1980s, however, harvest along the U.S. Atlantic Coast has declined, with similar patterns occurring in the Canadian Maritime Provinces (Meister and Flagg 1997). Hypotheses for the decline in abundance of American eel in recent years include locational shifts in the Gulf Stream, pollution, overfishing, parasites, and barriers to fish passage (Castonguay et al. 1994; Haro et al. 2000). The decline in abundance may or may not exhibit spatial synchrony (Richkus and Whalen 1999; Sullivan et al. 2006); additionally, factors such as unfavorable wind-driven currents may affect glass eel recruitment on the continental shelf and may have a greater impact than fishing mortality or continental climate change (Knights 2003). Limited knowledge about fundamental biological characteristics of juvenile American eel has complicated interpretation of juvenile abundance trends (Sullivan et al. 2006). 4 population dynamics. A recent American eel stock assessment report (ASMFC 2006) emphasized the importance of the coast-wide survey for providing data useful in calculating an index of recruitment over the historical coastal range and for serving as an early warning of potential range contraction of the species. Funding for the Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s spring survey in the Potomac River was provided by the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, thereby ensuring compliance with the 1999 ASMFC Interstate Fishery Management Plan for American Eels

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This paper was published in College of William & Mary: W&M Publish.

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