The Eel Project

By AJ St. Martin, Education Intern on the Mystic Whaler

Of all the amazing critters in our Hudson River, perhaps the most dynamic and awe-inspiring is the American eel. On Monday, April 25th, the crew and education staff aboard schooner Mystic Whaler had the opportunity to meet these slimy wonders in one of their natural habitats.

The day began in Kingston at 4:30am (or, as we like to call it, O-Dark-Thirty.) By 5am, we were underway for Poughkeepsie. Once there, we made it through our long day of education and sail training. Finally, at 4pm, it was time to head over to Fallkill Creek and wrangle some eels!

"Eel mops" provide habitat for young eels to hide in. Here is one taken out of the water to collect the young eels.

Since 2008, the Department of Environmental Conservation has paired up with several Hudson Valley schools for the Eel Project, in which volunteers monitor young eels in local streams. Participants count eels, maintain nets and equipment, and log data on a daily basis. One such school is Poughkeepsie High, whose students welcomed the Whaler folks with open arms (and waders.) While several people helped empty the fyke net (a long, tunnel-like net) I carefully picked my way across the rocky creek to learn how to empty the “mops,” which look remarkably like their namesake, and provide a shelter for glass (baby) eels.

American eels are born in the Sargasso Sea and journey with the Gulf Stream up the east coast of the United States. When they reach maturity and are ready to spawn, they travel back. The eels and information collected in Fallkill Creek and the other Eel Project sites are helping us to learn more about these mysterious creatures’ populations, migrations, habits and needs.

Glass eel

In total we counted 3 glass eels and 3 elvers (toddlers.) Once we were back on shore, I got to hold a glass eel for the first time! As soon as I realized what a tiny, fragile and impressive creature I had in my hands, and how far it had traveled to get here, my day didn’t seem so long.

We were all incredibly grateful for such an experience, and I hope to help out again soon. Although we had a great time collecting the eels, the real reward was bringing them aboard the Mystic Whaler to share with our students!

For more infomation about the Eel Project, please visit NYS DEC webite at http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/49580.html

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