American Eels in the Susquehanna River Basin
How & Where They Get Stocked
Conowingo Dam currently blocks American eels from ascending the Susquehanna. In the mid-2000s, the USFWS began operating a rudimentary eel trap below the dam. They had success and improved upon the design and layout year after year, capturing over 290,000 in 2013. Through various legal agreements, the dam’s owner has since taken responsibility for collecting eels but still works with the agencies on improvements and adaptations. Currently, eels are trapped at dams on the Susquehanna River and on Octoraro Creek.
Juvenile eels, small 1-3 year olds that are referred to as elvers, are captured at the base of the dams in the special traps called ‘eel ramps’ or ‘eel ladders.’ Despite their small size (~5”) they are excellent at climbing and instinctively ascend the ramps by following the flowing water until they reach the apex and fall into a collection tank. From there the elvers are driven around the major dams and released back into the Susquehanna.
These eel ladders are operating throughout the spring and summer as the juvenile eels are seeking to move upstream. Elvers are captured steadily throughout the summer months but noticeable ‘pulses’ do occur where large numbers are caught in just a few days.
The juvenile eels are stocked at various locations around the Basin with the majority of the catch always going directly back into the mainstem Susquehanna. Some tributaries have been stocked in support of ongoing research efforts. If you are a student or researcher interested in studying eels in the Susquehanna River Basin, please reach out to us-we are interested in hearing your ideas and lending support where feasible. Contact SRBC Fisheries Biologist Aaron Henning at [email protected]
Almost 1.5 million eels have been stocked in the Susquehanna watershed since 2005. Have you caught an eel fishing or observed one recently? Fill out the reporting form below to help us track their range throughout the Susquehanna. Documenting their spread across the Basin has assisted restoration efforts considerably.