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All about eels: East Pennsboro biology students participate in eel release at Conodoguinet Creek

American eels were once one of the most common fish species in the Susquehanna River Basin before early 20th century hydroelectric dams blocked their migration.

CAMP HILL, Pa. — Note: The video is from 2016.

A group of East Pennsboro High School biology students on Friday did their part to help return what was once one of the Susquehanna River Basin's most common fish species back to its former status.

About 20 students in teacher Christina Baldwin's biology class have been participating in the Susquehanna River Basin Commission's "Eels in the Classroom" program.

Friday morning, the class released the juvenile eels they'd been raising in their classroom into the Conodoguinet Creek at Ridley Park in Camp Hill. 

They also got to see a demonstration put on by SRBC biologist Aaron Henning, who used electrofishing to catch a handful of older eels and showed the students how the eels are tagged before being released back into nature.

American eels were once one of the most common fish species in the Susquehanna River Basin. But in the early 20th century, multiple large hydroelectric dams were constructed on the river that blocked their natural migration to and from the Atlantic Ocean.

The SRBC is one of several organizations working to restore American eels to the Susquehanna. 

Ine the mid-2000's, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service began using a rudimentary eel trap below the Conowingo Dam to begin capturing and collecting eels, according to the SRBC.

Through various legal agreements, the dam’s owner has since taken responsibility for collecting eels but still works with the agencies on improvements and adaptations. Currently, eels are trapped at dams on the Susquehanna River and on Octoraro Creek.

Juvenile eels, small 1-3 year olds that are referred to as elvers, are captured at the base of the dams in the special traps called ‘eel ramps’ or ‘eel ladders.’ Despite their small size (about five inches in length) they are excellent at climbing and instinctively ascend the ramps by following the flowing water until they reach the apex and fall into a collection tank. 

From there the elvers are driven around the major dams and released back into the Susquehanna, allowing them to access breeding grounds.

These eel ladders are operating throughout the spring and summer as the juvenile eels are seeking to move upstream. Elvers are captured steadily throughout the summer months but noticeable ‘pulses’ do occur where large numbers are caught in just a few days.

The juvenile eels are stocked at various locations around the Basin with the majority of the catch always going directly back into the mainstem Susquehanna. 

Some tributaries have been stocked in support of ongoing research efforts

Eels in the Classroom is an experimental, small-scale environmental education opportunity provided by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission. Headed by fisheries biologist Aaron Henning, the program provides juvenile American eels to educators to raise in their classrooms and ultimately release back into the Susquehanna River.

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