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Ladders Help Eels Get Upstream

Volunteers Take Eels Upstream

Eel ladder at Crum Elbow

Volunteers and employees work on the eel ladder on Crum Elbow Creek in NY.

In 2012, the Hudson River Research Reserve, in partnership with the Hudson River Estuary Program and National Audubon’s TogetherGreen program, installed three low-cost “eel ladders” at key dams on tributaries to the Hudson River. Ladders can help eels get to crucial upstream habitats where they will mature. In this new low-cost design, eels climb up a tube filled with netting, and land in a holding bucket. The bucket is checked twice a week by local volunteers and community members, and the eels are released upstream of the dam.

All American eels are born in the Atlantic Ocean near Puerto Rico, in an area called the Sargasso Sea. They migrate over 1,000 miles to enter estuaries like the Hudson River, seeking freshwater habitats where they will mature. Many dams significantly limit the number of eels that can get around them and access crucial upstream habitats.

The American eel is an important species ecologically, economically and culturally, but in recent decades there have been declines in their population. Currently the US Fish and Wildlife Service is considering listing the American eel as a threatened species, with the final decision expected to be announced later this year. Dams can act as barriers to eel migration upstream, a key part of their life cycle.

The three sample streams are Furnace Brook in Cortlandt, Westchester County, Crum Elbow Creek in Hyde Park, Dutchess County, and the Saw Kill in Annandale-on-Hudson, Dutchess County. As we’re nearing the end of the eel ladder season, volunteers have caught almost 400 eels and released them upstream of barriers to migration. We hope to expand to additional sites in the next few years.

For more information, visit the Hudson River Eel Project website and Like us on Facebook

Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
NOAA National Estuarine Research Reserve System

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