I've seen a lot of concern voiced on this board in the past two years about the lack of adult menhaden. I continue to see more articles about the decline in american eel populations, the latest being "Eels in Trouble" in the November Saltwater Sportman mazagine. Here are a few quotes from that article:
"European eels began declining in the late 50's - two decades before their American cousins...In 1982, Maryland's Department of Natural Resources conducted its first survey of commercial eel fishing in the Cheasapeake Bay. The surveyors estimated 1.5 million pounds of eels were landed that year.; they also estimated that the catch went mostly to crabbers. But Cheasapeake fisherman were already receiving a far better price for eels shipped live to Europe that sold locally for bait in crab pots."
"By the mid-1990's, Asian buyers were paying more than $300 a pound for American elvers." (which are 2"-4" immature 'glass' eels)..."The price has since rebounded to $100 a pound and elver poaching is on the rise again." "The rub was that so long as even one state permitted fishing for elvers - Florida, South Carolina, Connecticut, and Maine still do - poachers could buy a license in one of the unprotected states and claim they'd cuaght their illegally taken elvers there."
"In April 2004 the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission announced plans to reduce total U.S. eel landings below last year's meager one million pounds. ASMFC also asked the Fish & Wildlife Service & National Marine Fisheries Service to determine whether the eel should be considered a candidate for protection under the Federal Endangered Species Act."
The article goes on to say there are many theories about why populations have declined - overfishing, harvesting seaweed in the Sargasso Sea, habitat loss, etc. My personal theory is that the spike in striper and blue populations contributes to the reduction in bait populations as much as anything.
So my view is that as fisherman we need to start treating eels as a resource to be conserved, not as an unlimited source of bait. Next time you decide to buy 5 or 10 lbs of eels for you or your charter clients, or before you decide that Mr. Wiggly isn't quite lively enough and decide to put on a fresh one, please think about whether you'll even be able to buy an eel in 5 years (or for what price?) if their populations keep declining. Or better yet, maybe you'll decide to stick to the 9" sluggos!