NARROWSBURG – The Upper Delaware Council, Inc. (UDC) has urged the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) to allow the commercial silver eel fishery to remain active in the New York State portion of the Delaware River and its tributaries beyond the current regulatory expiration date of Dec. 31, 2014 based on the fishery’s continued significance to the regional culture and economy.
The Commission’s American Eel Management Board will meet on August 7 in Alexandria, VA to potentially act on proposed regulatory changes outlined in Draft Addendum IV to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for American Eel.
On June 30, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Fisheries Biologist Kathy Hattala arranged a public informational meeting at the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) office in Narrowsburg attended by 18 individuals including eel fishers to review the various management options listed in the Addendum. ASMFC was accepting public comments through July 17.
The Delaware River holds the distinction of having the only commercial silver eel fishery operating in the 15 states that comprise the Atlantic coast.
There are currently 16 permits issued by NYS DEC, with 10 eel weirs in active operation this past season on the Delaware and Neversink Rivers.
Eel weirs include large wing walls built of stones and placed in the stream flow to funnel eels into a rack located at the base of the V chute. That trap is a latticework of wooden slats designed to allow water to run through but spaced so that the eels cannot escape as they make their headlong rush to the sea in the late summer and fall.
The stated goal of Draft Addendum IV is to reduce overall mortality and increase conservation of
American eel stocks. A 2012 Benchmark American Eel Stock Assessment found that the population of glass, yellow, and silver eels (different life stages) is at or near historically low levels in United States waters due to a combination of historical overfishing, habitat loss and alteration, productivity and food web alterations, predation, turbine mortality, changing climatic and oceanic conditions, toxins and contaminants, and disease.
The baseline assessment, however, was not able to construct eel population targets that could be related to sustainable fishery harvests. Participants at the June 30 meeting debated whether it is the number of eels or the reports of their harvesting which are in decline.
For the commercial silver eel fishery, four options are under consideration:
1) Allow New York’s one-year exemption to expire at the end of the year;
2) Extend the sunset provision by a timeframe specified by the American Eel Management Board;
3) Implement a time closure for no taking of eels in the Delaware River system;
4) Limit the Delaware River weir fishery to those permitted New York participants that fished and
reported landings anytime during the period from 2010-2013.
A hybrid combination of options may also be enacted. In its comment letter to the ASMFC approved unanimously on July 3, the Upper Delaware Council pointed out that the River Management Plan for the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, adopted in 1986, provides that “the commercial taking of eels by eel weirs or other traditional methods may continue in accordance with state laws and regulations” in support of the overall objective to “ensure the continued public use and enjoyment of the traditional and historical uses of the public lands and waters of the river corridor for hunting, fishing, trapping and commercial taking of eels and bait…”. New York State has an Executive Order in place directing all its agencies to act consistently with the policies of the River Management Plan.
If New York’s exemption is allowed to expire, a provision of Addendum III of the Interstate Fishery
Management Plan for American Eel will go into effect to prohibit the retention of eels from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31.
The UDC wrote, “Considering that from 2003-2012, average monthly landings from the Delaware’s eel
weir fishery were reported as: July, 139 lbs.; Aug., 1,005 lbs.; Sept., 2,574 lbs.; Oct. 1,653 lbs.; and Nov., 2 lbs., this restriction would be detrimental to an already challenging business enterprise which exists to supply a demand.”
The Council encourages continued scientific study to determine stock depletion trends but notes that the current permit level makes the overall impact of New York’s commercial silver eel fishery on the coastal system appear minor.
“We support approval of a management option or combination of options that will keep the commercial
silver eel fishery open while implementing reasonable conservation objectives,” the UDC’s letter concludes.
Draft Addendum IV to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for American Eel may be accessed on-line at https://www.asmfc.org/species/american-eel#pending