What you should do if you catch an eel in the Ottawa River

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What you should do if you catch an eel in the Ottawa River

A group of people fishing on the Ottawa River on Monday evening got a surprise when they pulled up the line and at the end was an American eel.

It was a rare catch at Britannia Beach — a man fishing nearby explained that the eel is an endangered species in Ontario and had to be released.

The fishers worked quickly to free the eel from the line and tossed it back into the river.

Once an abundant species in the Ottawa River, making up 50 per cent of the fish biomass, the American eel population has dropped drastically.

News of the catch pleased researchers.

"That's always really exciting for us to hear," said Meaghan Murphy, a staff scientist with the Ottawa Riverkeeper. "Their populations on the Ottawa River have plummeted ... in the last 30 or 40 years, mostly as a result of dams and their inability to access these waterways."

The Ottawa Riverkeeper has been working for several years to bring back the eel population, which has declined by up to 98 per cent.

According to Murphy, there are 21 dams in the Ottawa River the eels need to pass during migration, and only one of the dams has a passage for the eels.

That makes it difficult for the eels to travel to this region, she said.

"We really want as much information as we can get about any eels that are being caught because it tells us some really vital information about what the eels that are able to get through and up to these parts of the river."

Murphy said if you catch an eel or spot a dead one, you should take a photo and contact the Ottawa Riverkeeper, the Canadian Wildlife Federation or the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to report the findings.