Fisheries commission proposes new rules for American eel

Conservationists, fishermen and others will get a chance to weigh in on proposed new regulations for the commercial eel fishery during a public hearing at 7 p.m. June 24 at Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a regional authority for fisheries regulation, is proposing new rules for all three life stages for the American eel - juvenile glass eels, adult yellow eels and spawning silver eels. At present, there is a small commercial and recreational fishery in the state for yellow eels used for bait, but fishing for glass and silver eels is prohibited, David Simpson, director of marine fisheries for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said Tuesday.

DEEP will host the hearing for the commission.

There is concern that illegal fishing for eels is taking place, Simpson said, adding that he has "no direct knowledge of it." The lucrative glass eel fishery - whose catch has a market price from $400 to $2,000 per pound - is currently legal only in Maine and South Carolina, where they are harvested for export to Asia to serve as seed stock for aquaculture operations.

The commission is considering 25 options for revising regulations for commercial fishing for glass, yellow and silver eels, from keeping the status quo to permitting aquaculture with permits to new catch limits. The proposed regulations, Simpson said, would have little effect on the state unless the ban on taking glass and silver eels were lifted, although people may want to comment at the hearing out of general interest in the status of this once abundant animal and the commercial fishery elsewhere.

The commission is considering stricter rules for the fishery in response to evidence that the population of eels is depleted to historically low levels due to overfishing, loss of habitat and access to habitats blocked by dams and hydroelectric facilities.

Adult eels live in freshwater, but migrate to the Sargasso Sea to spawn. During the juvenile stage, the transparent glass eels swim back into rivers to freshwater lakes and ponds.

This spring, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed a bill that would have lifted the ban on the glass eel fishery in Connecticut. The measure would have allowed fishermen to begin taking glass eels only if the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission approved.

Malloy determined that lifting the ban would not be prudent, given that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is considering declaring American eels a threatened species. The Fish & Wildlife Service's decision is expected by September 2015.

The commission's decision on the rules is expected to be released in August.

j.benson@theday.com

MORE INFORMATION

• For information on the public hearing and the draft proposal, visit the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission website at www.asmfc.org or call (703) 842-0741.

• The deadline for public comment is July 17.

• Written comments can be sent to: Kate Taylor; senior fishery management plan coordinator; 1050 N. Highland St.; Suite 200 A-N; Arlington VA 22201; or emailed to comments@asmfc.org, with the subject line "American Eel."

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