Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Secret Lives of Eels

Photograph by David Doubilet
(click on the photo for a better view)

I have a massive backlog of reading material and last night I tried to catch up, beginning with the September 2010 issue of National Geographic Magazine (yes, the original print edition is still in publication and better than ever), and I was thrilled to come across Eels, Mystery Travelers, by James Prosek, an excerpt from his recently published book, Eels: An Exploration, from New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the World's Most Amazing and Mysterious Fish.

Eels have long held a fascination for me for reasons I can't quite explain. I have been known to purchase adult eels at bait shops only to set them free (they spend their adult lives in fresh water) because it pains me so to see these wild, wide-roaming fish confined. I know that the eels I release may end up as captives again, but whatever freedom I can give them seems worthwhile.

Overfishing and a never-ending demand for eels in Asia is putting enormous pressure on these fish. Eels are also taken from our own waters (Maine is the most active eel fishery) and shipped to markets in Japan and China. I believe that under most circumstances, removing a creature from its wild habitat is wrong anyway. But then to ship eels, as if they were merely merchandise and not living beings, thousands of miles away to be "consumed" by people who regard them only as food and do not value their important role in marine ecology, well, I find that downright disturbing. I know it's happening every day but that doesn't make it right.

Eels, like other fish and animals have become "products" of a consumer mentality that demonstrates how disconnected we are from the origins of our food. The decline of eels is another example of how mankind takes more than he needs again and again to satisfy his insatiable desire for profit. I am sorry to see these magical and ancient creatures caught up in our industrial wheel. They face enough obstacles in their efforts to perpetuate their own kind.

There is still so much we don't understand about the life cycle of eels. In many ways, like Prosek, I hope we never do; that is part of their mystique and it may ensure their survival. However, protecting them is becoming critical and such knowledge can be used to preserve the species.

I have met some Maori people on my own travels in New Zealand, and so I was not suprised to learn that they revere eels. "On Earth, the movements of eels make the rivers flow. The eel is integral to everything," say some Maori.

Without the amazing work of underwater photographer David Doubilet, this story would not be as compelling as it is. Click here to read more about him and his incredible images. Below is an excerpt from National Geographic:

"…The migrations millions of adult eels make from rivers across oceans must be among the greatest unseen journeys of any creature on the planet, spanning thousands of miles. Along the way they face a long list of dangers: hydroelectric dams, river diversions, pollution, disease, predation (by striped bass, beluga whales, and cormorants, among others), and increasingly, fishing by humans. Now, with climate change, another potential disaster looms: shifts in ocean currents that may confound eels during their migrations. Regrettably, although sublime in the eyes of some, the eel is not likely to be the poster child for a conservation movement anytime soon."

No comments:

Post a Comment