|Estuarine behaviour of European silver eel (Anguilla anguilla) in the Scheldt estuary|
Verhelst, P.; Reubens, J.; Moens, T.; Goethals, P.; Buysse, D.; Coeck, J.; Mouton, A. (2016). Estuarine behaviour of European silver eel (Anguilla anguilla) in the Scheldt estuary, in: Webb, J.A. et al. (Ed.) Proceedings of the 11th International Symposium on Ecohydraulics. Melbourne, Australia, 7-12 February 2016. pp. 1-3
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Estuaries are among the most productive ecosystems in the world and are characterised by high habitat diversity. As transition areas between inland rivers and the open sea, they function as transport zones for diadromous species like the European eel (Anguilla anguilla), a catadromous fish species that migrates to the Sargasso Sea for spawning. However, information on the migratory behaviour of eel in estuaries is scarce. Therefore, more insight is needed to efficiently restore and conserve the species. We tracked 47 eels with acoustic telemetry between July 2012 and October 2015 and analysed their behaviour from the Braakman creek into the Scheldt Estuary, separated by a tidal barrier. Eels arrived in the Braakman between mid-summer and early winter and stayed there on average 44 days (0 - 578 days). As such, arrival in the Scheldt Estuary was much later: between early autumn and early winter. The average residence time in the Scheldt Estuary was considerably shorter than in the Braakman, and was only five days (0 - 64 days). The long residence time in the Braakman was probably due to the discontinuous operation of the tidal barrier, which is used to control the water level in the upstream wetland area. This resulted in a discontinuous flow conditions, leading to searching behaviour in eels. Eventually 37 eels did pass the sluice and reached the Scheldt Estuary; the 10 eels which did not pass the sluice were probably caught by a commercial eel fisherman in the Braakman creek. In the Scheldt Estuary, 26 eels migrated towards the sea, whereas eight took the opposite direction and three were only detected at the first receivers downstream of the sluice. The eight eels that did not migrate towards the sea showed estuarine retention behaviour. They could have been injured by the tidal barrier or missed the right moment to migrate, and could be waiting in the estuary until favourable conditions are met to proceed their journey. Our results indicate that eel migration is obstructed by a tidal barrier, which resulted in delayed eel migration. As the migratory period occurred from mid-summer to early winter, this information can be implemented in management plans such as environmental windows to open the sluice during eel migration if circumstances allow such measurements.