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
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
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