With financial support from Ottawa Wavemakers, in July 2015, Ottawa Riverkeeper and Canadian Wildlife Federation teamed up to host an Eel awareness day on the shore of the Ottawa River at Parliament Hill to educate families in the National Capital region about the endangered American eel,  one of the capital’s intriguing links to oceans and ocean issues.

An American eel
An American eel

Through a live eel installation that brought people face-to-face with eels from this region, interactive games and activities, educational posters, and conversations with eel researchers, over 300 people of all ages gained an appreciation for this unique animal that connects us to the Atlantic Ocean through the Ottawa-St. Lawrence river system and the varied threats to its survival.  The event reached an even larger audience with three media outlets covering the event.

Children's activities included "Eel Plinko" which educated participants about the obstacles eels face during their migration.
Children’s activities included “Eel Plinko” which educated participants about the obstacles eels face during their migration.

Over the course of its life time, the American eel migrates from its breeding grounds in the Atlantic Ocean up into the St. Lawrence and Ottawa River systems where they grow and mature before returning to the Atlantic Ocean to spawn.    The decline in this species regionally and across its range is due to a host of threats in both its marine and freshwater environments including the damming of rivers, water pollution, and changes to oceanographic currents brought on by climate change.

The success of this species depends in part upon its access to these large river systems, where some of the largest and most fertile females grow and mature.  In the recent past, the construction of hydro dams on the Ottawa River has severed one of the critical biological links to the oceans by creating a significant barrier to upstream and downstream eel migration.   On the Ottawa River alone there are over 19 dams, none of which have systems in place to aid eel migration.  Currently Hydro Ottawa is the only dam operator experimenting to improve eel passage – they have installed a temporary eel ladder at the Chaudiere Dam.

As a result of these factors the American eel population on the Ottawa River has declined by over 97% over the last 30 years.  Once a staple species to our river’s ecology and to the culture and survival of the Algonquin people, the eel population on the Ottawa River is only a fraction of what it once and threatens to disappear from completely from the river as has happened in many rivers and streams in the region already.

Our event successfully connected families in the national capital region with one of these key biological links to our oceans and highlighted the diverse marine and freshwater issues impacting their survival.  The future survival and success of the American eel depends upon a commitment by all of us to the protection of our water resources.   Ensuring that adequate provincial and national legislation and enforcement is in place to reduce pollution, prevent over-fishing, limit climate change impact and protect and maintain access to habitat for aquatic species are critical ways that we can protect our rivers and oceans for future generations.

Check out a video created by Ottawa Riverkeepers that highlights our successful eel day!Oceans to Rivers and Back: The Ottawa River’s American Eel