Fish Survey Program
PTRC follows a protocol similar to that of the Maryland DNR juvenile striped bass survey, which documents annual year-class success for young-of-the-year (YOY) striped bass (Morone saxatilis) and relative abundance of many other fish species ar 22 stations within Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay (there is no DNR site in the Port Tobacco watershed). DNR has collected over 100 fish species since 1954. Annual indices of relative abundance provide an early indicator of future adult stock recruitment and document annual variation and long-term trends in abundance and distribution.
What We Found
Here are some of the fish we found in the Port Tobacco River in our 2015 fish survey. For a complete list, see our Port Tobacco River 2015 Sampling Results
The striped bass, or rockfish, is the state fish of Maryland. It is native to the Atlantic coastline and has been fished since Colonial times. It preys on smaller fish, including river herring, shad, and blueback herring. The striped bass is anadramous, migrating from salt water to fresh water to spawn. One of the largest breeding areas is the Chesapeake Bay. Striped bass are of significant value for sport fishing. The Maryland state record fish weighed 67 lbs, 8 oz, caught at Bloody Point in 1995.
Yellow perch are native fish of Atlantic tributaries, where they swim in schools along the shore amid aquatic vegetation. Their habitat includes slow-moving rivers and streams and brackish waters. Yellow perch spawn annually in the spring, laying gelatinous strands of 10,000 to 40,00 eggs generally draped over weeds or submerged branches. They feed on invertebrates, crustaceans, and juvenile fish. They are an important food source for eagles, herons, double-crested cormorants, and larger fish. The Maryland record yellow perch weighed 2 lbs, 3 oz, and was caught at Marsh Creek in 1979.
In the Chesapeake Bay, white perch commonly prey on grass shrimp, razor clams, and bloodworms. The Maryland record white perch weighed 2 lbs, 10 oz, and was caught at Dundee Creek in 1979.
The pumpkinseed is member of the sunfish family, native to the east coast. It is generally about four inches in length and weighs less than a pound. It favors creeks and small rivers with plenty of vegetation. The fish breed in nests built by the males in shallow water on sand or gravel bottoms. Males guard the offspring for the first eleven days. Young fish school close to shore feeding on insects, mosquito larvae, small crustaceans, and minnow fry. The pumpkinseed is popular with young anglers because it is easy to catch from shore using a worm as bait.
Atlantic menhaden travel in large, slow-moving schools feeding on plankton. In estuaries and bays they are an important link in the food chain between plankton and upper level predators. Menhaden are an invaluable prey species for many predatory fish, such as striped bass and bluefish. They are also a very important food source for many birds, including egrets, ospreys, and herons. Menhaden have been fished for use as bait and for manufacture of fish meal and oil. In 2012, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission declared that the Atlantic menhaden was depleted due to overfishing.
The gizzard shad is a member of the herring family that is found in brackish waters along the Atlantic coast. Its maximum length is about fifteen inches. The gizzard shad feeds on plankton and its digestive system includes a gizzard, a sack filled with rocks or sand, that aids in the breakdown of consumed food. The fish spawns in large numbers and has a rapid growth rate, and can become a dominant part of the ecosystem it inhabits, competing with other planktivorous fish.
The banded killifish is a North American freshwater species that can occasionally be found in brackish water. It averages four inches in length. It is most often found in shallow, quiet areas of clear rivers and estuaries with sand or gravel bottoms and abundant aquatic vegetation. The killifish feeds on insects and their larvae and on small crustaceans. It is an important food source for larger fish, such as largemouth bass.
The Atlantic silverside is one of the most common fish in the Chesapeake Bay. It reaches about six inches in length and eats small animals and plants. It is a food source for larger fish, including the striped bass, as well as for shore birds. This fish is generally found swimming in schools in brackish water near the water’s edge. They often shelter and spawn in grass beds.
The inland silverside inhabits estuaries from Maine to Florida. Adults reach four inches in length. Inland silversides congregate in large schools in shallows over sand or gravel bottoms, but move out into open water to feded on small arthropods and crustaceans. It is a food source for a variety of fish and birds.
The Atlantic needlefish lives in the Chesapeake Bay’s shallow waters from spring through autumn. It is often seen at the water’s surface near docks, marshes, beaches, and bay grass beds where it forages for shrimp and small fish. It lays its eggs from May to June, which sink to the bottom and attach to underwater grass blades. The needlefish can grow to two feet in length. It is preyed on by larger fish and by fish-eating birds, including the bald eagle.
Pipefish live among bay grass beds in shallow waters in summer, retreating to deeper channel waters in winter. It eats mostly tiny crustaceans. Pipefish are closely related to seahorses. Spawning occurs between April and October, with a peak in May to June. The female lays her eggs into the male’s brood pouch, where they are fertilized. The male incubates the eggs for approximately two weeks before they hatch. He then releases a cloud of tiny, fully-formed pipefish from his pouch into the water. Adult fish reach six to eight inches in length. The pipefish’s ability to camouflage itself means it has few predators.