WEST PIKELAND — Some new aquatic life has been introduced into Pickering Creek and scientists believe it could curtail a major invasive species problem.
On Thursday, representatives from the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University and the United States Geological Survey released young American Eels into Pickering Creek at Historic Yellow Springs.
The population of these eels, which are native to the area but are migratory, has decreased significantly in the Schuylkill River Watershed. Their presence is an important part of preserving the ecosystem of the creek, according to officials.
"Anybody that knows anything about rivers and streams knows that there are many elements that dictate whether or not we have a healthy stream system. You have water quality, you have water quantity, you have whether or not the stream is free flowing or is it dammed," said Maya Van Rossum, Delaware Riverkeeper. "Equally as important and generally not as well recognized is the health, the abundance and diversity of the native species that are actually in and under the water, including the migratory species that visit the stream system."
One of those species for the region is the American Eel, according to Van Rossum.
"Eels serve as a key link in the aquatic food web and they are very important for maintaining the health of the stream ecosystem," she said.
Project partners have been working with local conservation groups including Green Valleys Watershed Association, French and Picking Creeks Conservation Trust and Historic Yellow Springs. One of the major components of the study is to see if reintroducing these eels into the streams will have an effect on the population of invasive crayfish.
In Pickering Creek, virile crayfish have begun taking over the streams and, in some spots, have completely replaced the native crayfish.
"I've been studying crayfish for about 20 years, and this is a pattern that is repeated over and over again in Pennsylvania. Stream after stream, watershed after watershed is completely overtaken by exotic crayfish," said Dr. David Lieb, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. "The exotic crayfish are often too big to be consumed by fish and so all the energy in the system is locked up in exotic crayfish ... There has not been an attempt in Pennsylvania to eradicate exotic crayfish. There have been very few worldwide and I'm not sure there's ever been one in flowing water. This is truly a landmark day for Pickering Creek and also science."
Lieb added that data collected over the last few years indicates that these exotic crayfish and American Eels don't coexist, which could potentially make introducing the eels into Pickering Creek an effective tool to reverse the crayfish invasion.
About 1,000 eels, all about a year and a half old, were released into the creek Thursday morning. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, female American eels can grow to five feet in length, and males usually reach about three feet.