Eel populations have declined in many areas due to hydroelectric developments, habitat fragmentation, pollution, introduced species and overfishing. They may also be affected by climate change or unknown factors. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has indicated eels are a species of “Special Concern”. In the future, eels may also be listed in the Species At Risk Act.
The Mi’kmaw Conservation Group in partnership with St. Francis Xavier University and Ni’newey Video Productions are working on a traditional eel fishing video that will highlight the important issues around the American Eel and what the impact will be on Communities if it is listed under the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Species at Risk Act. Once a species is listed under the Species at Risk Act, access to this food and medical source could be limited.
Eels are famous for the outrageous journey they undertake to breed. As far as anyone knows, they leave freshwater and coastal areas and travel to the Sargasso Sea. There, they are believed to reproduce and then die. But nobody knows for sure. Scientists are starting to track eels on their oceanic journey. They are assisted by advancements in satellite tracking tags, which are now much smaller. Once they breed eggs and then small leaf-shaped larvae drift and swim back to land. These start to develop a familiar eel shape as they approach the coast.
When eels are here in Atlantic Canada, they are known for making burrows. They often spend their days in burrows, and they overwinter in the mud. They are nocturnal animals, so they are more active at night. This traditional food is captured by spear in winter and summer. The winter spear has many prongs that help the fisher find the eel in the mud. The summer spear has curved guides that help with aim during the nighttime spear fishery.
Eels are a beloved traditional food in many Mi’kmaw Communities. They are valued because they can be harvested all year round. Eel is not only a healthy food source but fishing eel also provides an opportunity for families and Communities to share and pass down traditions. They are also known as a source of traditional medicines and their stretchy skin can be used to make tools.
Participation in eel spearing has declined over the last 30 years in many Communities. As a result of this decline fewer young people are learning about eels and many have never tasted it. This is of great concern to traditional harvesters.
The scientific community is also concerned about the future of the eel because of declines of the eel population in certain areas.
The Mi’kmaw Conservation Group is working towards researching and studying how to protect the eel, and other species, while still having access to this traditional food and medicinal source.