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Citizen Science: American Eel Research

Students and Community Partners Research Migratory Fish

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Watch a clip of the eel project on DEC TV

a bunch of glass eels in the palm of the reasercher's hands
These nearly transparent glass eels
were born in the Atlantic's
Sargasso Sea

The American eel (Anguilla rostrata), a migratory fish, is born in the Atlantic Ocean and enters North American estuaries, including the Hudson River, as tiny, see through "glass eels" each spring. Once they arrive, they soon gain pigment and become part of the ecosystem for years to come. The species is in decline over much of its range, and baseline studies, like the Hudson River Eel Project, of populations are crucial for management decisions.

During this project, teams of scientists, students, and community members collect glass eels using specialized nets and traps on several Hudson River tributaries each spring. The juvenile fish are counted, weighed, and released, and other environmental data is recorded. At the end of each season the data is compiled and sent along to decision makers.

The project involves students and volunteers directly with scientific design and field methodology. Participants experience their local ecosystem firsthand, and collect important information and relevant data about migrating fish.

Volunteer With Us

There are many opportunities to get involved with American Eel Citizen Science! Below are descriptions of our eel projects. Check out other volunteer opportunities with the Hudson River Estuary Program.

The Projects

Fyke Nets: Large fyke nets are set in the mouths of tributaries for six to eight weeks each spring, catching the juvenile eels as they migrate upstream. Each net is checked every single day by two or more volunteers. Often, people sign up to check a net one or more specific days per week. It takes approximately 45 minutes to sample each day. All gear and materials are provided, but personal transportation to the site is required. Volunteers should be willing to work outside under variable conditions, wear waders into the stream, and work collaboratively within a team of students and volunteers.

Eel Mops: Eel mops are special devices made to mimic juvenile eel habitat. They are passive traps that are set in the water and checked for life as often or as little as needed. In addition to glass eels, we often find invertebrates and other small fish as well! Learn How to Make an Eel Mop (PDF, 933 KB).

Eel Ladders: On their journey upstream, eels swim into many barriers that prevent access to favorable habitats. At few locations by dams, we set eel ladders that catch eels attempting to swim upstream. The eels are then counted, sized, and released above the dam. The ladders are checked twice a week during the summer sampling season.

two eel project participants stand in a stream in waders. one is holding a small glass eelSample streams include:

  • Richmond Creek in Staten Island
  • Mill Creek in Staten Island
  • Furnace Brook in Cortlandt
  • Minisceongo Creek in West Haverstraw
  • Indian Brook at Constitution Marsh in Cold Spring
  • Quassaick Creek in Newburgh
  • Fall Kill in Poughkeepsie
  • Crum Elbow Creek in Hyde Park
  • Black Creek in Esopus
  • Saw Kill in Annandale-on-Hudson
  • Hannacroix Creek in New Baltimore

Some Eel Project History

Volunteers from the Eel Project celebrate the end of the sampling season and go over results with DEC staff

The Hudson River Eel Project began in 2008 with two sites, the Fall Kill in Poughkeepsie and Crum Elbow Creek in Hyde Park. By 2014 the project expanded to ten sites, ranging from New York City to Albany County, with over 500 volunteers lending a hand and learning a thing or two. Over its seven year lifetime, the Eel Project has caught, counted, and released over 200,000 glass eels, helping these animals access better habitat.

Over the course of the project we have collected interesting data. In 2012 volunteers caught an average of 144 glass eels per day and in 2013 volunteers caught an average of 199 glass eels per day. This is a significant increase from previous years during which the average catch per day was around 20-30 eels. One of the key educational aspects of this project is bringing the data back into classrooms and having students make meaning from it.

Thank you for your support. In addition to hundreds of volunteers, the Eel Project is supported by many organizations and partners.

Please contact us to find out more and sign up to volunteer:
Chris Bowser, chris.bowser@dec.ny.gov
Caitlin Zinsley, caitlin.zinsley@dec.ny.gov; (845) 889-4745 x.108