March of Tetrapods, Elver Reluctance

Image: Nathaniel DorskyVia: Notebook

Image: Nathaniel Dorsky
Via: Notebook

A couple of updates on previous topics:

March of Tetrapods

That super cool fractal tool of the Tree of Life, OneZoom, has added all tetrapods to its phylogenetic work. With 70% of all currently described four-limbed creatures crawling around on the Tree, the next additions will be plant life and fish. I’m as excited as ever to see this tool expand its open science range as well as capability of harnessing various cyberspace knowledge bases to help users access articles, images and other information (such as level of endangerment) on the species listed.

The visualization of the increasingly complex big data of modern science is a genuine challenge, and I really admire what OneZoom is doing to bring together several related areas of study.

According to their website, OneZoom will also be working together to provide visualizations with Open Tree of Life, an organization working towards providing a unifying web-based resource that unites “biological research of all kinds, including studies of ecological health, environmental change, and human disease,” which “increasingly depends on knowing how species are related to each other.”


Elver Reluctance

I’ve written here and here about the hot competition for fishing licenses for American eel in Maine. I checked on the newly hatched fishing season on elvers today. The season opened at noon on March 22 with high hopes and hotly contested elver fishing licenses. Considering the boom year of 2012, which brought in $38 million worth of elvers (an estimated haul of 19,000 lbs/8600 kg), this is no surprise.

For the moment, neither the elvers nor the weather are being very cooperative about helping this crop remain Maine’s second-most important fishing sector after lobsters. Where last year’s temperatures were almost summery at 70°F (21°C), this year is a much colder 45°F (7°C). There is still snow on the ground from the latest storm to hit the East Coast. And the amount of elvers in the stream is lower as well, according to an official of the Maine Marine Patrol. Early 2013 prices were estimated at approximately $1700/pound of elvers, a little under a dollar per glass eel. Last year, the top price early in the season was $2000/lb. Once the elvers are shipped to the interim destination that awaits them (before a dinner plate, that is), the price can go to up to $30,000/lb. for them once they are grown.

The American eel has been considered for listing as an endangered species on and off for the last twenty years, but without concrete knowledge of the actual population size (I have read various estimates that range from ‘millions’ to ‘billions’), it’s difficult to say just where they stand. A bounty of elvers one year might mean the population is stable and healthy; it might also have been a birth boom year, and by harvesting several million of the young, long-term effects might impact the population several years down the line when there aren’t sufficient adults to mate. Last year I read an estimate that at $2000/lb., elvers were going for a dollar apiece. That’s 2000 elvers per pound, which means last year’s harvest removed something on the order of 38 million elvers from potential adult population of the future. (Admittedly, 2000 elvers/pound seems like a large number, but it’s the only one I was able to find.) For an eel population in the billions, that’s a drop in the proverbial bucket. For a population in the millions, that’s a lot of elvers.

For the fishing industry, it’s a gold rush. As one commenter says on the online news site for Maine’s The Bangor Daily News, “This seems like a once in a lifetime deal. Also…a bad night at fishing is still better than a good day at work!!”

The current boom in elver prices is a real time view of differing perspectives when it comes to species management.

One side sees abundance, the other uncertainty.




United States Fish & Wildlife Service – American Eel page

Differing perspectives here and here.

One thought on “March of Tetrapods, Elver Reluctance

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