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Young Angler Contributes to Science by Reporting Tagged Eel

October 8, 2004

WATERBURY, VT - Ten-year-old Dakota Folmsbee had no idea when he went fishing with his dad, Scott, in early July of 2004 that he would be contributing to science in a big way before the day was done.

The father and son team were casting large shiners from shore at one of their favorite fishing spots, Brown's Bay, at the southern end of Lake Champlain, with the intention of bringing home enough fish for an evening meal. However, young Folmsbee got more than he bargained for, and fisheries science advanced a notch as a result.

Dakota caught a 39-inch long American eel, a fish rarely seen in Lake Champlain in recent years. The pair kept the eel and took it home at the end of the day. When Dad started to dress the eel, he noticed a small glass object the size of a grain of rice embedded just behind the head. The glass bead had copper wire wound inside. Realizing it must be something placed there by a biologist, he tucked the device into a plastic bag and later presented it to Vermont Game Warden Rob Sterling who passed it on to Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department fisheries biologist Shawn Good.

The device turned out to be a "PIT tag," (Passive Integrated Transponder). These new types of tags are magnetically coded with a series of numbers, which can be scanned and read with a special reader - similar to bar codes at the grocery store - while still inside the fish. Realizing the Province of Québec was the most likely origin of the tagged eel, Good contacted Pierre Bilodeau, a fisheries biologist with the Société de la faune et des parcs du Québec who then forwarded the tag number to scientists working on American eel recovery projects on the Richelieu River that flows from northern Lake Champlain to the St. Lawrence River near Montreal.

Several weeks later, Good received word from Richard Vernon, a biologist with Hydro Québec that the eel was initially captured and tagged in August of 1997 at the Chambly eel ladder during its first year of operation on the Richelieu River. After being tagged, the eel was released downstream of the ladder. At the time, the eel measured 14 inches long.

It was recaptured in the same eel ladder again on June 24, 1998, still 14 inches in length. This time, however, the young eel was released upstream of the eel ladder at Chambly, giving the eel a chance to migrate upriver to Lake Champlain.

Six years of living in Lake Champlain were apparently good to the eel, as it fed and grew from 14 inches to a length of 39 inches. It had moved over 100 miles from its tagging location in Québec to the southern end of Lake Champlain where it was caught by young Folmsbee.

"The American eel has a fascinating life history," said fisheries biologist Shawn Good. "Eels are -catadromous- fish, meaning they spawn in the ocean, but migrate to freshwater to feed and mature - exactly the opposite of what salmon do". "American and European eels spawn in the Sargasso Sea, south of Bermuda in the Atlantic Ocean. Newly-hatched eels, or elvers, then disperse from the Sargasso, making their way to freshwater rivers and lakes all across North America, Greenland, the Mediterranian, and Europe, where they feed, grow, mature, and eventually migrate thousands of miles back to the Sargasso to spawn as adults."

Through the mid- to late 1900's, adult eels were plentiful in Lake Champlain and other inland Vermont waters such as Lake Bomoseen and Lake Dunmore. Every year, large number of juvenile eels would make their way from the Atlantic Ocean up the St. Lawrence in search of feeding grounds. However, in the last two decades, eel numbers have been in worldwide decline. The construction of dams along their migration routes are thought to be partially to blame. In response to the declines, recovery initiatives have been established across the eels' range. In Québec, recovery efforts have included the construction of two specialized eel ladders on the Richelieu River to help eel migrate to their Lake Champlain feeding grounds.

Since its construction in 1997, over 29,000 American eels have passed through the eel ladder on the Richelieu River at Chambly, Quebec.

Shawn Good said, "Dakota Folmsbee and his father Scott can be proud of their contribution to the fisheries research being done by scientists in the United States and Canada to learn more about the American eel. Their diligence in recovering and turning in the PIT tag is much appreciated."

"Anglers should learn how to identify American eels, and be aware of the precarious position their populations are currently in. Although there are no season or harvest limitations in Vermont, anglers might consider releasing any eels caught unharmed."

To learn more about the American eel, go to


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