The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled that American eels – economically valued for their use in sushi – will not be listed under the Endangered Species Act, saying that it is “not warranted” to provide the protection.

The agency rejected a petition from California-based group Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy & Reliability to list the eels as threatened, saying in a statement that the American eel is “stable.”

“While American eels still face local mortality from harvest and hydroelectric facilities, this is not threatening the overall species,” the statement read, adding that the effects of these threats are reduced by harvest quotas and mechanisms that restore eel passage around dams and other obstructions.

The decision – based on a report that organizations such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-Fisheries, U.S. Geological Survey, and Academia peer-reviewed – is the result of a 12-month review of a 2010 petition to list the eel as endangered. The petition argued that eels have lost over 80 percent of their habitat and that commercial fishing is putting their security at risk.

The rejection was the second one made, following reviews in 2007 and this year.

The fishing advocacy sector campaigned against further protection for eels, which will hinder or severely limit the commercial harvesting of the species. This year, Maine baby eels cost over $2,100 per pound, an increase from $100 per pound in 2009.

Elvers or baby eels are marketed to Asian aquaculture firms to be raised and used as food. Fishermen in Maine and South Caroline are the only harvesters of elvers in the country, with the latter getting a much smaller share. Other states such as Maryland and Virginia maintain fisheries for older eels.

Rob Roy Ramey, science adviser to the petitioners, slammed the decision and said the Fish and Wildlife Service “have failed miserably” if they do not recognize that they are losing the American eel. He noted that the International Union for Conservation of Nature has already listed the eels as endangered.

The agency, though, recommended maintaining habitats, monitoring harvest, and improving river passage for eel migration to assist in the long-term stability of the species.

Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife | Flickr

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