Every fishing season sheds light on the health of aquatic wildlife and, inevitably, on the general state of the St. Lawrence River.
At different times in its history, the American eel population has reached spectacular peaks, leading to catches whose size is hard to imagine today. There have also been bad years, but never as bad as those recorded in the 21st century.
The family archives of fishermen take on their importance here. They draw a portrait of the fluctuation of the eel population over several centuries. The oral tradition is also reminiscent of the years that marked the memories.
A Marked Decrease in the Number of Eels Around 1940 – View this video with a transcript
Victims of human activities
Between 1967 and 1983, eels were subjected to at least three contamination episodes involving chemical products that had found their way into lakes, streams and rivers, including the St. Lawrence. DDT, mercury and mirex made the headlines. These contamination episodes not only reduced the eel population, but also put an end to eel exports.
Today, hydroelectric dams are the main cause of mortality among the eel population. It is estimated that 40% of migrating eels are killed in dam turbines. Québec and Ontario’s hydroelectric utilities are taking steps to reduce this sorry statistic. They are also freeing up funding for research on eel stocking.
Ever since Québec’s natural resources department introduced a voluntary fishing licence retirement program, commercial fishing has stopped having an impact on the eel population. The eight fishers who are still active are all found in the Côte-du-Sud region. They catch less than 10% of the total number of eels returning to the Sargasso Sea.
Impact of the 2016 Fishing Season – View this video with a transcript