1. The first Thanksgiving, as has been stated here before, had a lot more to do with eels (true American eels!) than it did turkey and mashed potatos. There was a recent article in The Times about this
And somewhere on this blog I did a little piece on unagi... wait here it is: No More Unagi.
2. The American eel has fallen on hard times. This is what I've read, anyway. But here's what I don't understand. The Hudson River was absolutely choked with eels when I was a kid. The river is, supposedly, much cleaner now. We know for a fact that eels aren't an indicator species like candlefish, they are relatively impervious to nasty water. Back in the 70s and 80s the Hudson was the kind of river that occasionally caught on fire (not really, but it was wretchedly polluted) and yet eels were everywhere. (The juvenile delinquints in my neighborhood used to fish eels under the piers with wrist rockets and m-80s--I am still traumatized by this, and tortured by the fact that I couldn't stop them).
It seems unlikely to me that there has been all that much dam building since the eighties. In looking at commercial eel landings they don't seem to be very high, there's a bait fishery and very limited rec. fishery. So what the hell is killing them off? (global warming anyone?) The idea occurred to me that maybe it's the capture of elvers. But only two states on the Eastern Seaboard allow elver fishing: Maine (400 licenses) and South Carolina (10 licenses)--with Maine accounting for the lion's share of landings.
To those of you who are wondering what the hell i'm talking about. Unagi, that oily and delicious marinated piece of flesh that you can now buy pretty much anywhere on earth, is made from eels
raised on "farms" in Asia. These are not typical farms, rather they are more like ranches. They do not breed eels but simply buy elvers (juvenile eels) that are caught (by dip net and fyke) as they ascend large American (and formerly European) rivers.
Check this out. Just take a guess... what was the going rate per pound for elvers at the docks in Maine this year? Come on. Wild guess. The price per pound for elvers?
Drum Roll Please...
That's right. The elver market topped out at $2,600 dollars per pound. Read that again it's not a misprint. Obviously the price is that high because the demand is that high. When supply is severely limited but demand continues to increase, that's what happens to the price.
In truth I'm confused by all the data. It's hard for me to believe that 20 years ago you could stand under a pier in the Hudson River and watch the water boil with eels. And now I read that US Fish and Wildlife is actually considering listing the American Eel as an endangered species (!) This is doubly weird because they just did a study four or five years ago that determined eels were not overfished and that populations were not endangered. To make matters even more confusing, the group spearheading the current drive to list American eels is called CESAR (Center For Environmental Science Advocacy and Reliability) and is headed by that great champion of the Endangered Species Act, former Bush administration Dept of Interior honcho, Craig Manson. Not sure what these folks have to gain by throwing their weight into the push to rescue eels from oblivion. But it's all rather confusing to me and I should probably research it a bit more before I make any more bold pronouncements.
Really the reason I'm concerned is because of what has happened to European eel stocks since 1970. If you think about it, there isn't that much difference between American and European eels (Euro eels prefer bad techno music). I mean as far as life patterns and habitat are concerned. And what we're talking about with Anguilla anguilla (Euro eel) is a 90 to 95 percent decrease in stocks globally. Extinction now being a real possibility. So when population trends in American eels start to show a universal tendency towards decline... we should at the very least be concerned. Let's not let 'em go the way of the European eel.
Lots of eel-mails pertaining to Columbia black tailed deer. Okay, okay I got it! Sheesh! Lots of hunters reading my blog I gather. I had always lumped mulies and black tails together. Sort of like lumping yellowtail rockfish and olive rockfish together (but not quite). Thanks for disabusing me of my errant notions. Seriously, though. I appreciate it.
Last year's Herring spawn, Sausalito (January 2012). Note: gill net parallel to shore and herring boats off Scomas.