Parks Canada’s Alanna MacKinnon and Barbara MacDonald at their information table about American Eels.
Out behind my place, in the back forty where the River Clyde runs, there are American Eels. The eel is one of the most amazing connections (for me) between Bermuda and Eastern Canada, and they’re right outside my back door!
I first heard the story of the American Eel last month when I was in Bermuda. Then, last week, I attended Aboriginal Day celebrations at Lennox Island Mi’kmaq First Nation here on Prince Edward Island. Parks Canada was present with an educational display about . . . guess what . . . the American Eel.
Aboriginal spear used for fishing eels.
Serendipity had, once again, played her hand.
Eels begin their lives in the Sargasso Sea. That’s the sea that lies largely to the east of Bermuda, and is bounded, not by land, but by ocean currents. Mature eels, with silvery colouration, return to the Sargasso Sea from freshwater rivers, ponds, lakes and estuaries in North America, where they spawn in a mystery location. As larvae, eels float in the protective Sargasso Sea, but, eventually, they find their way to coastal North America.
When they reach the coast, they are called glass eels because they are transparent. As juveniles, they take on pigmentation and are then called elvers. Later, they take on a golden colour and are called yellow eels.
It can be up to twenty-five years before American Eels turn silver and make the long journey back to the Sargasso Sea to spawn. Their silver colouring camouflages them, giving protection from ocean predators. Their eyes enlarge so that they are better able to see in the ocean, and the shape of their fins changes to give them better swimming ability.
I’m originally from British Columbia where we root for salmon to pass through the gauntlet of human fishers, bears, wolves and steep, rocky waterfalls to their gravelly upstream spawning beds, where they will reproduce. Maybe that’s why I’m now a big fan of the American Eel. I’m rooting for them to successfully navigate the over-1500-kilometer swim from the River Clyde, out back of my place, to the Sargasso Sea.
Sadly, the American Eel, as with so many other creatures, may be in jeopardy. It is disappearing from areas of its former range. Habitat loss, dams and overfishing are given as probable causes.