Monday, November 15, 2010

Fresh Water Eels Are Born in Salt Water

When I was a kid, we used to go fishing on the Pawcatuck River in Rhode Island. We were fishing for horn pout which is a fresh water catfish that is nocturnal and a bottom feeder. The worse thing that could happen was if an eel got on your line. You could tell it was an eel because they didn't actually tug the line, but the line would go limp in your fingers. This was probably because the eel was wrapped around your line. You felt it in your fingers because we were throw lines not poles (see my January 2010 posting on Catfish Noodling). When we pulled the eel out of the water, often it would wrap itself around your arm. They wiggle all over the place and are quite slimy. It is a real mess. You sometimes have to cut the line to get it off. You not only lose the fish but the tackle as well. It is not a very tasty fish with many bones so we usually were more upset about the loss of the tackle than the fish. It also took a lot of line to set up your tackle and line again. It was common knowledge that if you caught an eel, you were done in that spot for horn pout and had to move your boat. Apparently, they don't get along. I've never had this verified as truth, but it seemed true because if you caught an eel and didn't move, you didn't get another pout for the night.

Fresh water eels are actually spawned in the ocean. The word for this is catadromous. I might have respected them a little more if I had known this as a kid. They take quite a long trip to just end up on the floor of my row boat. The eels I used to catch were probably about 10 to 14 years old. When they are 14 years old, some of them head back to the ocean and spawn where they were born, probably the Sargasso Sea which is south of Bermuda. This is where the eel orgy takes place. Some of them make the trip, not just to my river in Southern Rhode Island but as far away as Norway or Ireland. It could take them close 200 days to get there. I have new found respect for these creatures.

Eel populations are threatened not only because fresh water dams (many without eel ladders) make it difficult for them to make their trip back to the Sargasso, the North American eel are dieing off due to a parasite called nematode. This was introduce to their population when someone in the 1970's or 80's introduce some European eels into the American river system. The parasite attacks their swimbladder which assists them on their journey in the ocean. Since the ocean is too deep for them to feed on the bottom, the swimbladder helps them travel on stored energy. Think of it as a battery cell. So they drowning on the way to spawning. All because of some Euro-trash eels.