Aiding the Endangered American Eel

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Transcript - Aiding the Endangered American Eel

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Somewhere under all that water, one of nature's most extraordinary travelers is in the midst of an epic journey.

We're talking about the American Eel. It's a modest looking serpent-like fish that begins life in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

While still young, they travel all the way into North American fresh water rivers and lakes where they stay for 15 to 20 years before heading back to the Atlantic to spawn and die.

They were an important part of the food web in Lake Ontario, the upper St. Lawrence River and the Ottawa River system, and at one time provided an important commercial fishery but in recent decades, their numbers have fallen by over 90 percent and they are now considered endangered in this province. That's one of the reasons the Ministry of Natural Resources cancelled the eel fishery, beginning in 2004.

For years, part of the Eel's challenge in Ontario was the R.H. Saunders Hydro Dam at Cornwall. It poses a dilemma - how do you have green power, which is good for the environment and help the eel? In the summer of 2009, Ontario Power Generation gave the Eels a real lift…quite literally, officially opening a new and improved Eel ladder…yes, a ladder.

(John Murphy - Executive V.P., Ontario Power Generation)
“OPG places a very high priority on environmental performance. So we're looking for different innovative and creative ways in which we can put something back to the environment in a constructive way.”

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Here's how it works. A strong flow of water entices the Eels to enter special intake valves at the bottom of the dam.

From there, they swim up a series of covered ramps lined with special material to make the climb easier. In just 2 hours, they're at the top of the dam.

Once there, they move into this basin. And finally, the Eels swim through a new 300 metre long pipe to the end of a jetty where they safely enter the St. Lawrence once again on their way to Lake Ontario.

It's hoped this partnership with Ontario Power Generation will inspire more combined efforts to save other animals at risk of disappearing.


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