The Value of Citizen Scientists: Data Collection for American Eel Using Non-Traditional Field Gear & Social Media
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American Eel (Anguilla rostrata) is a facultative catadromous species with a unique and complex life history. After hatching, larval eel begin their journey as leptocephalus in the Sargasso Sea and drift on ocean currents along the Atlantic coast, Gulf of Mexico, and Central and South America. They transform into glass eel as they approach shore and begin to develop pigment as they settle in estuaries or move upstream into rivers as elvers. American Eel then spend 3-40+ years in these habitats as yellow eel until they sexually mature into silver eel and return to the Sargasso Sea where they spawn and presumably die. State and federal agencies, multiple universities and numerous citizen science volunteers are working to better understand their movement patterns and recruitment window in Texas. Citizen scientists with coastal chapters of the Texas Master Naturalists (TMN) have taken a lead role in assisting with this effort. Since February of 2018, TMN have established a network of monitoring sites across the mid to upper Texas Coast to sample for juvenile American Eel using eel mops. Eel mops have been deployed for various lengths of time at 29 sites throughout the past two years and checked routinely for glass and elver eel. Volunteers have conducted approximately 250 eel mop checks and provided record of their catch by category (e.g., eel, shrimp, crab, other fish, etc.) based on occurrence or abundance. TMN have documented close to 7,000 individuals across all categories with various species of crab, shrimp, and fish being the most common groups collected. While no glass or elver eel have been collected in an eel mop, TMN have provide valuable data for this project by testing a common gear type that is often used to monitor for American Eel on the Atlantic Coast.
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