CLARK COUNTY, Ark. (KTHV) --Their numbers are on the decline, and their population is threatened, but the very thought of them may make your skin crawl. When you say its name, the words, "slimy," "snake-like" and "slithering" probably come to mind.
In Wednesday's"Fishin' with Liz," THV 11's Liz Massey looked at the eels' epic journey to Arkansas and the work to save them.
The Caddo River isa popular summertime escape, a perfect place for a group of friends.
"It's just really relaxing to come out here and float all day. You don't really have to move--the current takes you all the way down the river," said Logan Lemley.
Lemley loves going to the Caddo River in Clark County, but it's not just home to fun in the sun. Beneath the waters, hidden in the rocks and under the logs is something mysterious is something often misunderstood.
"I think of the ones like in the movies that electrocute you. They're big, and they have teeth--just scary," said Valrie Fleming.
But, for Jeff Quinn, they are something very fascinating.
"I think the average Joe when they see an eel, they think it looks like a snake. They don't know what to think of it--a little apprehensive and scared of it."
Quinn is a Stream Fisheries Biologist withArkansas Game and Fish Commission.
"We're studying American Eels because both in 2005 and 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Service was petitioned to list the American Eel on the Endangered Species Act," he said. "We're trying to determine how many eels we have here in Arkansas, where are they located and what is their status in this state."
The team electrofish for them. Electric current runs down lines and fish in the path are not hurt, they're just stunned.
Quinn said they've handled hundreds and have never been bitten. He said eels can be found in all of Arkansas' major river systems, but their lives begin far away.
"The American Eel spawns in the Sargasso Sea in the ocean off near Bermuda off the coast of Florida," he added. "They're thought to spawn at deep deaths 3,000 to 15,000 feet. That's where they catch the smallest larvae. Nobody's actually ever seen them spawn."
The larvae drift with the ocean currents for about a year before making it to shore. What's amazing, Quinn said, is that the eels traveled 3,000 miles and navigated five dams just to get to the Caddo River.
"On smaller dams, sometimes they can actually crawl across ground on short, wet rainy nights sometimes they can get around a dam, Quinn said.
And, Quinn said since males don't migrate too far inland, they believe Arkansas only has female eels.
"When they get here they might live here 6 to 20 years. We're not sure how long they're living here, maybe up to 50," he said.
Then Quinn said they eventually make the journey back to the Sargasso Sea where they spawn and die. As for the eel population, Quinn said dams, over harvest out east and the accidental introduction of an exotic parasite are three possible big factors in the decline.
According to Quinn, they're working to make sure the American Eel stays around for future generations.
"The eels are just an interesting fish," he added. "They have such an epic journey just to get to Arkansas, and it would just be a shame if they couldn't make it back."
"I mean you don't want the population to get extinct or anything like that," Lemly agreed. "We need to keep them around, so I think it's good that they're picking them up and studying them."
Still, Lemley believes he'll now have more on his mind floating down the river.
"I'm going to be thinking there might be an eel under me," he said.
The American Eel has not been placed on the endangered species list just yet. Arkansas Game and Fish biologists have been studying them since 2011, and Quinn expects it to last for another one to two years. Eels are legal to catch in Arkansas, and Quinn said many people find them tasty.
THV 11's Liz Massey would like to thank Casey Cox and Greyson Farris for helping THV 11 with the eel trip. Cox is a graduate student from U.C.A., and he's interning with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Farris is a student at U.A.L.R, interning with Arkansas Game and Fish.
To submit your fish photos to the "Fishin' with Liz," visit: http://on.kthv.com/18wPZR4