Studies of the demographic characteristics of the American eel Anguilla rostrata over broad spatial scales are scarce. Eels in the Shenandoah River drainage and lower Potomac River tributaries of Virginia were sampled over 2 years in both inland and near-coastal areas to describe the demographic characteristics in each area and document drainagewide patterns. Eels from the inland Shenandoah River drainage were significantly longer (median = 767 mm total length) and older (median = 11.5 years) than those found in the near-coastal Potomac River tributaries (median total length = 142 mm; median age = 2.0 years). In addition, the sex ratio varied in Potomac River tributaries, but only female were found in the Shenandoah River drainage. Catch per unit effort decreased with increasing distance inland and was further depressed upstream of some dams. Eel demographics in the Shenandoah drainage were similar to those observed in other studies done at distances exceeding 300 river kilometers (rkm) inland, whereas the demographics of Potomac River tributary eels were similar to those observed in other coastal and near-coastal areas. Large female eels found 300-500 rkm inland in this study may be especially important to the population's reproductive potential because of their greater fecundity. Investigations aimed at describing the demographics of eels in a region should sample throughout drainages to ensure accurate characterization. Effective management of eels will require innovative approaches that recognize the large-scale, complex structure of the population.
Additional publication details
Demographic characteristics of American eel in the Potomac River drainage, Virginia