The American Eel is a fascinating fish that is born is saltwater, and then migrates thousands of kilometres to freshwater rivers and lakes to feed and grow before returning to the sea to spawn. American Eels were once common in rivers and lakes of Canada’s East coast, Quebec, and Ontario. Many Indigenous groups value eels for medicinal, instrumental, nutritional and ceremonial purposes. Until 2004, the American Eels was also the subject of a considerable commercial fishing industry in Ontario. Although significantly reduced, commercial fisheries in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces are ongoing. Today, the American Eel’s complex life cycle is threatened by overfishing, loss of access to habitat, mortality due to hydro-electric turbines, and other factors. As a result, American Eels are experiencing drastic population declines, including a decrease of more than 99% in Ontario.
The American Eel is listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as well as by Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. It is listed as Threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). In Ontario, an action plan (Government Response Statement) is overdue by nearly five years. The federal government is also greatly delaying providing a decision about legally protecting the species under the Species at Risk Act. Government action is not moving fast enough to help this critically endangered species. That’s why the Canadian Wildlife Federation has developed its own program to help the American Eel and advocate for its protection.