Category Archives: Conservation

Industry-funded Research on Dorsal Spine Aging Shows Promise in Largemouth Bass Conservation




Craig Springer,
USFWS – Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration
from The Fishing Wire

There are “lumpers” and there are “splitters.”

Some fisheries scientists think that largemouth bass and Florida bass should be split into two species.  Others lump them together as one species as mere diverging strains or races.  This much can be agreed upon:  bass in southern climates grow big, and fishery managers are careful to conserve the trophy fish coveted by anglers at all experience levels.

To that end, Summer Lindelien, a fish biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has endeavored the last four years to learn more about how Florida’s largemouth bass, Florida bass, and their hybrids grow over time.  Excise taxes paid by fishing tackle manufacturers and on motor boat fuels fund her research in grants administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program.

The research is bearing fruit that promises to yield better bass fishing in Florida—if not anywhere the 19 species and subspecies of the black bass family swim. More research is in the works and necessary to take further steps.

Lindelien and her FWC colleagues are developing a new method to determine age and growth rates of trophy largemouth bass that would otherwise be missing in population assessments and ultimately, fishing regulations.  Hard bony structures are best for determining a fish’s age, body parts such as scales and ear bones that put down rings at each year of growth.  The latter is most reliable but there is a downside:  it is 100 percent lethal.  Dorsal spines may be the alternative. The method shows great promise as Lindelien learned while a graduate student at the University of Florida. She and her colleagues also completed a six-waterbody study to refine the efficacy of reading age rings on dorsal spines and are in the midst of evaluating how dorsal spine aging error affects population dynamic metrics.

Lindelien and colleagues caught wild bass known to be hybrids of largemouth and Florida bass, 36 fish in all, varying size from 12 to 22 inches long.  Six bass each were acclimated in six tanks and three from each tank where randomly picked to have three dorsal fin spines extracted with surgical scissors and snips cut flush with the bass’s back. The fish were monitored for injury and mortality for 35 days afterward.None of the bass with missing spines perished. Overall condition between fish with spines intact and those with spines removed did not vary to any great degree at the conclusion of the month-long study. In the end, the method shows much utility as a means for black bass fishery managers to gather more data on trophy fish without deleterious effects on the fish and the fish population. The method also holds promise down the road for citizen-scientists—anglers, that is—to weigh and measure and trim a spine before releasing trophy fish, thus greatly expanding the essential data scientists need.

Lindelien is the first to confirm that removing dorsal spines is benign to largemouth bass. According to Lindelien, as the dorsal spine aging technique is refined it might be employed on other black basses, common and otherwise: Guadalupe bass in Texas, spotted bass in Kentucky, Neosho smallmouth bass of Oklahoma or the rarer Choctaw bass of Alabama and Florida where removing fish of any size is not an option.

Lindelien and her colleagues published the results of the spine extraction research in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management.

Habitat Connectivity Helps Trout Take Care of Themselves


Trout Unlimited’s Poose Creek Project in Colorado served as an opportunity to test, validate and perhaps even contribute toward a framework of knowledge around fish passage and habitat connectivity.Colorado River cutthroat trout like this one didn’t take long to use a fishway on Poose Creek in Colorado.

Brian Hodge/Trout Unlimited
By Brian Hodge, Trout Unlimited
from The Fishing Wire

In our work at Trout Unlimited, we often rely on scientific theory to plan and implement conservation projects. In some instances, we also test hypotheses by monitoring projects and comparing predictions with outcomes, and in doing so contribute towards the broader body of scientific theory.

For TU and our local agency partners, the Poose Creek Project in Colorado served as an opportunity to test, validate and perhaps even contribute toward a framework of knowledge around fish passage and habitat connectivity.

When TU and its partners sampled the headwaters of Poose Creek in 2012-2013, native Colorado River cutthroat trout were almost completely absent from the reach above the one road-stream crossing but relatively abundant in the reach below the crossing.
A 108-foot long, concrete culvert and apron were installed at Poose Creek in the 1960s. Brian Hodge photo.

Moreover, at long-term monitoring stations upstream and downstream of the culvert, cutthroat densities were 0 and approximately 437 fish per mile, respectively. This contrast confirmed a standing assumption that the box culvert under the road was, and had for decades been, a complete fish passage obstacle.

In 2014, TU and the U.S. Forest Service retrofitted the box culvert with a vertical slot fishway, also known as a fish ladder. Although we only designed the fishway to pass adult trout (which are better swimmers and jumpers than their juvenile counterparts), our ultimate goal was to facilitate repatriation by the native cutthroat above the culvert.The exiting culvert was retrofitted with a vertical slot fishway in 2014. Brian Hodge photo.

The fishway project was thus rooted in at least two testable hypotheses: one, that removal or mitigation of the passage obstacle would actually result in fish passage; and two, that the incursion of adult spawners into vacant habitats would result in recolonization by the species (in other words, a few fish would ultimately lead to a lot of fish). Meanwhile, we had much to learn about the effectiveness of fishways for restoring passage to inland (nonanadromous) fish.Slotted baffles in the 150-foot long fishway allow fish to swim up the ladder. Brian Hodge photo.

In 2015 and 2016, we teamed up with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to evaluate the first hypothesis — that the fishway would effectively restore fish passage. We captured cutthroat in the mile of stream below the culvert and injected them with passive integrated transponders, or PIT tags. We then used a series of antennas within and around the fishway to monitor the number of approaches to, attempts at, and successful trips through, the fishway.

The result?

Cutthroat trout began using the Poose Creek fishway within a year of its construction. In fact, the fishway was completed in fall of 2014 and the inaugural trips through the structure coincided with the spring spawning season of 2015. Approximately 4 percent of all PIT-tagged trout approached the fishway, and 100 percent of the fish that approached it succeeded in entering and passing the new structure.

These findings, available here, satisfied our first goal of restoring passage. Nevertheless, questions still remained about the ultimate effect of restoring connectivity.One of four stationary antennas installed in and around the fishway. Brian Hodge/Trout Unlimited

In fall of 2020, approximately one and a half to two cutthroat trout generations after the fishway was installed, we tested the second hypothesis— that restoring fish passage would lead to recolonization of upstream habitats. Specifically, we used backpack electrofishing units to survey a half-mile segment of stream immediately above the culvert, and to repeat a multiple-pass population estimate at the long-term monitoring site (located approximately 0.6 miles upstream of the culvert).

In 2012, the segment of the stream was vacant of cutthroat trout. In 2020, the same segment hosted at least 589 cutthroats. Similarly, the same long-term monitoring station that contained cutthroat at a density of 0 fish per mile in 2012 contained cutthroat at a density of approximately 2,752 fish per mile in 2020 (817 fish per mile excluding the 2020 year-class).

Just as importantly, the presence of multiple age classes, and of young-of-year fish in particular, confirmed that Colorado River cutthroat trout were spawning in and recruiting to the headwaters of Poose Creek.

Of course, we can’t rigorously measure the percentage increase in cutthroat abundance above the fishway because the native salmonid was absent from the long-term monitoring site in 2012. Yet, even without the numbers, we might all recognize the indicator of success.Colorado River cutthroat trout make their way to spawning grounds. Brian Hodge/Trout Unlimited

In the end, our findings at Poose Creek offered support of theory:If we do our part to remove migration obstacles from rivers and streams, the fish will take care of the rest. The benefits could be immeasurable.

Brian Hodge is the Northwest Colorado Director for Trout Unlimited’s Western Water and Habitat program.

Restoration Brings Salmon, Anglers Back to California’s Clear Creek

A male Chinook salmon, with red coloration, strikes another male Chinook on Clear Creek in Redding, California, during spawning season in October. Credit: Brandon Honig/USFWS By Brandon Honig, USF&W

Clear Creek has been transformed multiple times in the past two centuries, but the transformation of the past few decades was designed to last. Ravaged first by gold-seekers and then by gravel-miners, the Sacramento River tributary is today a haven for fish and people alike.“You get to see big male salmon chasing each other away from females and see females digging redds, or nests. It’s exciting,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Charlie Chamberlain. “It’s something a lot of people would not expect to see in California except on National Geographic.”Local fishermen search for steelhead in Clear Creek, where restoration has created diverse conditions and habitats for fish. Credit: Brandon Honig/USFWS

Thirty years ago, it wasn’t something you’d see in Clear Creek either. There was little water flowing, and Saeltzer Dam closed off more than 11 miles of potential habitat for sensitive species like Central Valley steelhead and spring-run Chinook salmon.

The Bureau of Land Management, however, acquired most of the Lower Clear Creek channel bottom in a series of deals in the 1990s. At the time, the creek was mainly known as an out-of-the-way place for illegal trash dumping and suspicious activity.

“Some smart people at BLM understood Clear Creek’s potential for restoration, and they got a good deal on it because it was an industrial wasteland,” said biologist Derek Rupert, who oversaw the final phase of the project for the Bureau of Reclamation. “They made some good choices, so now the public owns the majority of this land.”

Planning a partnership
In 1992, Congress passed a massive fish and wildlife restoration program for California, the Central Valley Project Improvement Act. Among other measures, it singled out Clear Creek for an overhaul to be funded jointly with the state.

The planning process involved a large group of landowners, stakeholders, consultants and agency experts, which delivered a multi-pronged approach. The plan would reconfigure part of the creek channel, raise the water level, open up areas for fish habitat and increase the stream’s complexity and food production. 

“My hat’s really off to those people who were involved in the late 1990s,” said Tricia Bratcher, a habitat restoration coordinator for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, who joined the Clear Creek Technical Team in 2001. “They really put in some good thought on what restoration should look like, how it would function and the goals associated with all of that.”

Before the work began, she said, Clear Creek looked “trashed.” There were pits and piles of dredger tailings everywhere, and the water was shallow and warm, with virtually no riparian vegetation. Reports of people lurking there also kept locals away.

To clear the way for the restoration program, the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office teamed with the state and BLM rangers to tighten security and clean up Clear Creek. As the restoration work progressed, residents saw trails, restrooms and parking lots installed.

“Now when we go out there, there are families utilizing the area, swimming with kids, fishing, mountain biking, hiking with dogs,” Chamberlain said. “That greenway vision BLM had is being realized.”

A food-based explosion
Restoration began by increasing water flows through Reclamation’s Whiskeytown Dam, then removing the privately-owned Saeltzer Dam. Those steps brought fish to Clear Creek in the thousands, but the stream was nothing like its former self.Workers plug a ditch dug by gravel-miners last century and redirect its water into a new channel on Clear Creek’s original path. Credit: Brandon Honig/USFWS

“Miners basically dug a ditch here along the valley and diverted the creek into it so they would have room for gravel extraction,” Chamberlain said of one part of the restoration area. “They took a creek that used to have this dynamism to it and serve a lot of ecological functions, then dumped it into a little chute where it had very little ecological function and no dynamism.

”Creeks are naturally complex. They change speed and direction, pull in branches and move sediment. That action creates gravel bars, riffles and side channels, which foster plant and insect growth.

The channel the gravel-miners dug, on the other hand, was like a swiftly moving canal that only eroded downward. It didn’t change over time, and it didn’t create much habitat.

The restoration plan called for filling in the miners’ ditch and restoring the creek’s original path. It also required lowering the floodplain to create longer-lasting habitats and nourishment for rearing fish.

“If you change the shape of the creek so it spreads out and trickles into the floodplain or side channels, you get extra-slow areas where you’ve wet new surfaces, and those floodplains generate a lot of fish food and grow vegetation,” Chamberlain said. “You get a food-based explosion.”

Workers have placed downed trees and more than 180,000 tons of gravel in Clear Creek since the 1990s to help create habitat. Salmon spawning habitat was the original focus, but the work has created diverse conditions that benefit fish in multiple life stages. The latest phase focused on juvenile salmon, but will also provide homes for beavers, song sparrows and pond turtles.

“For juvenile fish, woody debris provides refuges from predators and spots to hold and wait for food to float, swim or fly by,” said Matt Brown, who managed the Fish and Wildlife Service’s program on Clear Creek from 1995-2017. “There will also be areas for adult fish to hang out and rest before they spawn and other areas with good spawning habitat.”

A long-term commitment
The 2.2-mile Lower Clear Creek Floodway Rehabilitation Project took more than two decades to complete. Along the way, the multi-agency Technical Team overcame challenge after challenge, culminating in completion of the final stage in October.

“I’m proud of the work that came before me and the perseverance they showed,” said Chamberlain, who has worked on the project since 2015. “People aren’t always resilient enough to insist that, ‘there’s a great opportunity here,’ even when the naysayers can’t see it. A vision was implemented here, and it’s working.”A Chinook salmon swims in Clear Creek during spawning season in October. Restoration work that began in the 1990s has turned Clear Creek into a salmon-producing hotspot. Credit: Brandon Honig/USFWS

In addition to the Service, Reclamation and the state, the project received significant contributions from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, the National Park Service, California Department of Water Resources, the Yurok Tribe and a variety of local organizations including the Western Shasta Resource Conservation District.

The experience often felt like a marriage, Bratcher said.

“Sometimes it drives you crazy, but you love the place, so you work through the problems and will be stronger for it,” she said. “We’ve had some really good people, some really knowledgeable people, who have continued to stick it out and really love Clear Creek.”Also like a marriage, she said, the commitment to Clear Creek should be eternal.“I’d hate for people to say, ‘We’re done on Clear Creek,’” Bratcher said. “Any time you implement a change, it disrupts the patterns and you have a responsibility. You are beholden to watch over it and be a steward.”Creighton Smith of Redding tries to pull a steelhead out of Clear Creek in October. Wild steelhead must be released unharmed when caught in California. Credit: Brandon Honig/USFWS

Record Lake Champlain Lake Trout a Testament to Successful Sea Lamprey Control


The jumbo trout had no sea lamprey scarring despite a long life in a lake once heavily infested–lamprey control efforts have clearly been effective.By John Hall, Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department
from The Fishing Wire

The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department recently certified a record fish entry for a 19.36-pound lake trout caught in Lake Champlain in August. Department officials say this demonstrates the positive impact long-term sea lamprey control efforts are having on the lake’s quality fishing opportunities.

Angler Jeffery Sanford, of South Burlington was fishing alone the day he jigged up the 36.5-inch lake trout from over 100-feet of water.

“I just got my first boat this year, and it was my first time out alone,” recounted Sanford. “It hit on my first cast of the day. Once I netted it and got it in the boat I was astounded at its size and lack of any lamprey scars or wounds.”

Sanford said he wanted to release the lake trout alive but was unable to revive the fish, so he brought it in to be weighed officially as part of Lake Champlain International’s Basin Derby, and he also entered it into the Fish and Wildlife Department’s record fish program. The fish currently sits in first place for the derby’s lake trout category.

According to department fisheries biologist Shawn Good, who oversees the Vermont State Record Fish Program, Sanford’s catch is a reason for celebration.

“Jeff’s fish is the largest lake trout from Lake Champlain entered in the Record Fish Program since the department started keeping fish records in 1969,” said Good.

“There have been much larger lake trout caught in other Vermont waters, but this Champlain fish is a big deal.”

According to Good, it is a direct result of good lake trout habitat in Lake Champlain and ongoing sea lamprey control efforts.

In Lake Champlain, nuisance sea lamprey prey on lake trout, landlocked Atlantic salmon, brown trout, steelhead, walleye, lake sturgeon, and other fish species. High attack rates and sea lamprey wounds can result in lower growth, smaller size, shortened life expectancy, and decreased fishing opportunities.

To counter this, the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative, comprised of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, initiated an experimental sea lamprey control program in 1990. A long-term control program that began in 2002 continues today.

Sanford’s observation of no sea lamprey wounds on his record catch is significant, says Good.

“We’re seeing lower overall wounding rates on many of these fish, and the fact that anglers are catching older, larger lake trout, salmon, and other fish species is proof that continued long-term sea lamprey control is working, and resulting in improved fishing opportunities on Champlain.”

Elizabeth Ehlers, Tournament Director of the LCI Fishing Derbies, says the annual Father’s Day Derby and year-long Basin Derby have seen bigger and bigger fish in recent years.

“There’s been an upward trend in size for many of the species entered in our derbies. Over the past 10 years, we have seen several record-breaking fish in cold, cool and warm water species divisions.”

“While our anglers are incredibly dedicated and skilled, these catches are not just by chance or luck. The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department has worked tirelessly to protect and restore the Lake Champlain fishery. Their management efforts – including lamprey treatment, control of invasive species, and fish stocking – have benefited all who enjoy this resource.

The impact of their efforts extends far beyond the angling community, as Lake Champlain anglers contribute over $200 million dollars annually to local economies.”

Jeff Sanford says he’s grateful for the fishery that continues to improve on Lake Champlain.

“It was an amazing fish and quite the battle. I’m extremely excited for next season! We have such an incredible fishery here.”

Sanford says he credits the openness of other anglers in the lake’s fishing community with helping him catch the lake trout and becoming a better angler.

“I just learned how to jig for lake trout this year from friends like Will Nolan, Ryan Carpentier and Jamie Shiekone. They provided the mentorship and tutelage I needed to learn a new technique. Everyone’s so open and friendly, and willing to help you learn something new.”

Good says that is heartening to hear.

“To maintain and grow participation in the sport we all love, it takes a village. I’ve always encouraged avid anglers to take newcomers out and show them the ropes. It can be challenging for a new angler to learn techniques that will help them be successful. I hope more anglers step up and become mentors to friends, family, even strangers.”

This fall, the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative is conducting sea lamprey control treatments on four Vermont rivers containing spawning populations of sea lamprey. The Winooski River was treated on October 2, the LaPlatte River will be treated on October 14 or 15, and control treatments will take place on the Lamoille and Missisquoi rivers within the next month.

To learn more about Lake Champlain’s sea lamprey control program, visit: https://www.fws.gov/champlainlamprey

Join Ducks, Unlimited for Conservation

When I bought my dream property, 75 acres of woods with two small ponds and a tiny field in east Spalding County, I wanted to manage it for wildlife and timber.  The Georgia Forestry Commission worked with me to set up a conservation plan that I have tried to follow.

    On the two small ponds I erected wood duck nest and put floating goose nests in the water.  I loved watching a pair of geese use the nest, protect it from other geese and lay their eggs.  It was a pretty sight to see the geese with their young paddling around until the young ones could leave.

    Going to the ponds early in the morning or late in the afternoon I could hear the whistle of wood ducks as they flew in or out.  One spring I saw a hen with about a dozen ducklings following her around on a pond and one fall a small flock of hooded mergansers took up residence and they were very pretty, too.  Although I have never fired a shot at a duck, I enjoy them on my ponds and try to give them a good place to live and nest.

    Conserving my land and water is multiplied millions of times all over North America by Ducks, Unlimited.  This conservation group works tirelessly to conserve wetlands and increase wildlife and bird habitat.  And many individual members, like me, work to do a small part in addition to the big projects the organization does.

    The Ducks, Unlimited motto “Filling the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever” has been its purpose since its founding in 1937. Started by a small group of hunters, Ducks, Unlimited has grown to about 650,000 members in the US, 120,000 in Canada and 5000 in Mexico. 

    As of January 1, 2020, Ducks, Unlimited has conserved more than six million acres in the US, more than six million acres in Canada and two million in Mexico. Total acreage in North America is almost 15 million acres. 

    In addition, there is about 175 million acres that have been conserved through legislation and agreements that Ducks, Unlimited has had an influence on being enacted through working with governments and individuals.  That is a tremendous amount of land to be brought under conservation to protect the future of waterfowl and wildlife.

    Much of the efforts of Ducks, Unlimited is in Canada and the northern Midwest where they either buy land and protect it or work with state wildlife departments and individuals to conserve wetlands where ducks nest and raise their young.

    But Ducks, Unlimited works in every state in the
US, including here in Georgia.  And the projects do not just help ducks. Every kind of wildlife and birds use the land and are able to increase their numbers.

    Here in our state, more than 27,000 acres have been conserved.  Georgia is important because we are part of the Atlantic Flyway and waterfowl that nest in the prairies, Great Lakes and eastern Canada winter here.

    Our coastal marshes and wetlands are important habitat for diving ducks like lesser scaup and paddle ducks like green wing teal and wigeon.  Inland, wetlands and beaver ponds on major rivers host thousands of mallards and wood ducks.  Lakes host ring-neck ducks, canvasbacks and wood ducks. Private ponds and wetlands like mine help those species, too.

    From the Rhett’s Island Unit on the Altamaha Wildlife Management Area on the coast to the Blanton
Creek Wildlife Management Area near us, projects all over our state offer hunting, public recreation like birding and hiking, water quality improvement and natural habitat improvement.

    Most of the work in Georgia consists of water control structures, like small dams to increase the amount of water in an area to dikes with pumps where fields can be drained, planted with food crops then flooded when they are mature to provide food for waterfowl.

    Many of the projects done by Ducks, Unlimited are in conjunction with state agencies like the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and private companies like Georgia Power. Ducks, Unlimited members volunteer to do manual labor to help with these projects, too.

    Many organizations spent a high percentage of the money they raise for “administration,” with only a small amount going to the efforts for which it was raised. Ducks, Unlimited dedicates 82 percent of their raised money to projects and only four percent to administration.  About 14 percent goes to fundraising.

    Membership fees and donations, and donations from businesses, are a big part of their income, but much of the money comes from local events.  Banquets held all over Georgia offer a good meal, good fellowship and a chance to bid on items offered for auction.  These events are a lot of fun and provide a large part of Ducks, Unlimited income.

    Locally, the Pike County Chapter event was honored with President’s Roll of Honor award for the amount of money raised.  You can go to https://www.ducks.org/georgia/events to see the many events scheduled around Georgia during November and early December. Many more will be held next year.  For a fun night out, plan to attend one.

    Help this great organization by joining – right now you get a nice sweatshirt type fleece jacket just for paying membership dues. And if you have land, manage it for waterfowl and wildlife.  Help out Ducks, Unlimited, the Georgia Department of Wildlife, businesses and other individuals by doing your part for the future of our natural environment.

Northeast Striped Bass Study

By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.
The Fisherman
from The Fishing Wire
Chuck Many nets a good fish for Dave Glassberg during the spring run off the Jersey Shore during the 2020 Northeast Striped Bass Study.

And now there are four!

“If one’s an anomaly, and two’s a coincidence, will three or more show a pattern?”That was the lead sentence in our first published piece of this year (Born To Run: Hudson River To Canyon Striper) on the status of our 2019 Northeast Striped Bass Study from our January edition. 

By now everyone along the Striper Coast is aware of the results; two post-spawn striped bass caught by our research team at The Fisherman, Gray FishTag Research and Navionics in May of 2019, tagged with high-tech MiniPSAT devices to track migration habits during a five-month stretch, ultimately showing returns from the offshore canyons including the Hudson, Block and Veatch.Two $5,000 “pop-off” satellite tags which incorporate light-based geolocation for tracking, time-at-depth histograms for measuring diving behavior, and a profile of depth and temperature, showing two very distinct paths in waters where we typically wouldn’t expect striped bass to swim.

There’s been some skepticism of course with some questing whether a big white shark gobbled up these stripers before heading east with a belly full of bass. However, the data stored inside the Wildlife Computers MiniPSAT devices – which amazingly were physically recovered by beachcombers in Massachusetts and New Jersey – shows both tagged fish were alive and swimming along the offshore grounds when the tags detached.We had grand plans in 2020, and with financial support from Navionics, Tsunami Tackle, AFW/HiSeas, Southernmost Apparel and the Recreational Fishing Alliance – on top of the thousands in individual donations from The Fisherman readers, regional advertisers, and local fishing clubs – the Northeast Striped Bass Study was poised to deploy up to a half-dozen MiniPSAT devices this past spring. 

“The plan was to have multiple boats ready to go at one time, with a full Gray FishTag Research team in New York again during the week of May 18,” said Mike Caruso, publisher of The Fisherman and an advisor for Gray FishTag Research, adding “It was going to be even more groundbreaking than in 2019.

”Due to travel restrictions and the shutdown of Wildlife Computers in Washington State where the devices are built, we missed the height of the post-spawn Hudson River bite by roughly two weeks.  But thanks to a determined crew at Gray FishTag Research in Florida and a little improvisation, we hit the Jersey Shore spring run off Sandy Hook with a pair of tags, one deployed Thursday, May 28 and another for the following Wednesday, June 3 while fishing with study supporters David Glassberg and Chuck Many aboard Chuck’s boat, Tyman.  The pandemic-related audible paid off with a pair of 46-inch plus stripers, appropriately named Cora and Rona.Tag Return #1With both a MiniPSAT device and a Gray FishTag Research “streamer” tag, a 46-1/2-inch striped bass called Rona is released back in the waters off Sandy Hook for the start of her tracking adventure.So the $10,000 question we’ve all been waiting to answer with baited breath; where did Cora and Rona eventually get to, and did they follow a similar offshore path to what Freedom and Liberty did during the 2019 study? 

Once again – just as in 2019 – our first two tag returns of 2020 reveal two coastal stripers taking a rather incredible journey into depths that few would’ve ever expected from striped bass.

On August 1, 2020, the Argos satellite first began to receive information from Cora’s tag in roughly 650 feet of water some 30 miles offshore of Gloucester, MA in an area southeast of Jeffreys Ledge along the Murray Basin.  According to the information in the MiniPSAT device since uploaded to the satellites, Cora had spent the previous two weeks heading in an easterly direction toward Stellwagen Bank, traveling approximately 85 miles in 14 days from an offshore area home to the Davis and Rodgers basins in the Gulf of Maine. 

That big striper was along the west side of George’s Bank for the July Fourth weekend, following a bit of meandering above Hydrographer Canyon.As unbelievable as it may be for some us to believe that final month of travel, the route to actually get to George’s Bank was even more shocking. 

Cora, a 45-3/4-inch striper tagged on June 3, 2020 off Sandy Hook during the spring run, seemingly took a southeast route soon after her release, following a similar path to overseas freighters coming in and out of New York Harbor using the Hudson Canyon to Ambrose Channel deepwater lanes. 

By June 10, MiniPSAT data shows Cora down past the Chicken Canyon and not far from the Texas Tower, where she would eventually begin tracking northeast towards Nantucket Shoals over a 14-day period before turning north in between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket by June 25.For about three weeks, Cora was outside of 3 miles and essentially unavailable to fishing pressure, and her return inshore in late June didn’t last very long either. 

During the final days of June Cora had cruised back through Nantucket Shoals before running that final offshore gauntlet in July.  Anglers along the south shore of Long Island never got a shot at this 35-pounder. We don’t know where she was in the days leading up to her tagging on June 3, nor do we know where she is now, but we have a pretty solid idea about where she was for 53 days this summer, and it wasn’t near the 3-mile-line along the south shore of Long Island.While Cora was the second big striper tagged for the 2020 Northeast Striped Bass Study – sister Rona being first on May 28 in the same stretch of water 2-1/2 miles east of Sandy Hook – her tag was the first to prematurely pop off. 

According to Bill Dobbelaer, president of Gray FishTag Research, there are any number of reasons why these highly specialized tags may come free.

“That fish could’ve gone under a piece of wood and it got hung up and tore loose…the answer is there are endless opportunities for that tag to come off,” Dobbelaer said, adding “it’s more of a miracle that it stays on, and the amount of information that we’ve already gotten from these fish is amazing. 

Dobbelaer and the Gray FishTag Research team have been involved in countless deployments around the globe with billfish where tags sometimes pop free within days of the initial capture.“It sucks when it comes off two days after we let them go, which happens,” he said.Tag Return #2And then there was Rona.  The first of three hefty stripers tagged in 2020 – Independence coming over the July Fourth weekend off Montauk – Rona was also tagged aboard Chuck Many’s Tyman on May 28, and her tag would begin relaying information from roughly 2 miles outside Moriches Inlet off Long Island on August 21.

When you look at the chart images of the travels taken by each of these fish, the first thing to understand is that the detailed tracking is not as exact as running on your own onboard GPS.  There are quite literally millions of data points collected inside of these MiniPSAT devices bobbing along the Atlantic Ocean somewhere after coming undone from their host.  As the Argos satellite passes overhead, the tag transmits its data where it is ultimately gathered by researchers at Gray. 

The data is then analyzed and input into charts to provide a general idea of migratory paths.

“We must always remember that fish in the ocean or wild never swim in a straight line,” said Dobbelaer, explaining “graphs created are averages based upon light sensors, temperature, and depth information.”  The graphs are reviewed by the folks at Wildlife Computers in Redmond, WA and the Northeast Striped Bass Study team; at that point, the estimated path of the fish is broken down using the Navionics Boating App with my own Capt. Segull’s charts scattered across the office floor.  Essentially, trying to pinpoint a fish’s precise path is like plotting a navigational course.The first striper deployed with a MiniPSAT device in 2020, Rona shows a rather incredible migratory journey between May 28 and August 15.

“They typically transmit for 10 days until the battery dies,” said Roxanne Willmer from Gray FishTag Research explaining how anywhere from 17,000 to 20,000 transmission attempts from the MiniPSAT devices to the overhead satellites once they’ve detached from the fish and floated to the surface. 

In 2019, both tagging devices were returned after being found on beaches along the Striper Coast, which is what researchers hope happens in 2020 as well. 

“If we do find them on a beach in three months then we can plug them in, which doesn’t require the battery, and get all of the data, maybe a more defined tracking,” Willmer said.

Heading back to the nautical charts with Navionics App in hand, we set to plotting Rona’s course from date of deployment off the Jersey Shore until the tag began to transmit 85 days later.  As difficult as it was for any one of us to process – and as hard as it might be for readers to believe – that big fish also traveled southeast along the Hudson Shelf Valley after being tagged, swimming approximately 100 nautical miles to the tip of the Hudson Canyon over the course of just 4 days.

“Likelihood” is a common word used in science; based on the best available science, there’s always a probability or chance of something occurring or not occurring in nature, especially when inserting man into the equation.  And from the data stored in that MiniPSAT device attached by fishermen into Rona at the beginning of the June, the tracking data showed the likelihood that she was finally on her way towards Moriches Inlet later that month after swimming around the edge of the Hudson and Toms. 

It would appear that Rona did swim back and forth across the line off Long Island at some point, but data fed to the Argos satellite shows a lot of ground covered over the span of a few weeks before making her northeastern-most stop along Nantucket Shoals by June 25, at roughly the same time as Cora.While Cora was the second fish “sat” tagged on June 3, hers was the first MiniPSAT to “ping” the Argos satellite on August 1 after coming undone prematurely on July 25.And similar to Cora which traversed darn close to the Texas Tower, data shows Rona making a quick run southwest of the Hudson tip in the area around the Triple Wrecks where yellowfin action was completely off the charts in 2020 with pelagics gorging on sand eels and keeping rods bent through early fall. 

On the move again in a northerly direction, Rona then covers a lot of ground south of Shinnecock at offshore areas during the summer as well, not far from where the Coimbra and Ranger wreck sites were ripe with life in 2020, and at roughly the same time.

“What is surprising is the magnitude of the apparent movements of these fish into offshore waters,” said John A. Tiedemann, Assistant Dean in the School of Science at Monmouth University and a longtime striped bass researcher and surfcaster. 

Tiedemann said he’s gone through 50 years of scientific research without finding any real evidence of such a long range offshore migration; he also noted how there’s never been a satellite tagging effort like this either.“In terms of their range offshore, the striped bass is typically characterized as a nearshore coastal fish and very few life history accounts provide evidence of movements onto the outer continental shelf region,” said Tiedemman, adding “Further analysis of environmental data associated with the movements of these fish may shed light on whether they are moving offshore in response to water temperature, food availability, or simple wanderlust.”

Connect The DotsWhere Cora and perhaps a few of her compatriots continued east/northeast, Rona’s satellite tracking shows her cruising back towards Montauk, maintaining an offshore route and crisscrossing her earlier travels until the tag was released somewhere outside of Moriches.  Whether she’s still swimming today or was brought to market is anyone’s guess. 

But as with all of the striped bass fit with MiniPSAT devices, there’s also a green streamer tag affixed to every fish to hopefully gather data on the final stats of each striper tagged.  That’s all part of an even bigger effort to get more of the public involved on this collaborative work.While a global pandemic impacted scheduling of the 2020 Northeast Striped Bass Study, the first batch of tagging gear arrived just in time for the Memorial Day weekend.“It is our team’s mission in our tagging work to always keep the data collected as open access to all,” Dobbelaer said of the team’s research, adding

“We will only conclude on the tagged specimen that we are studying, assume nothing of other fish movements or patterns, and continue to look for ways to evolve our own model.”One of those ways is through the use of the green spaghetti tags that have been distributed this season to handful of local charter captains, and which hopefully can be integrated into even more widespread use by anglers in the future science of striped bass. 

Dobbelaer said that the Gray FishTag Research goal is to expand on their tagging model to gather data from thousands of tagged stripers from the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, and hopefully using telemetry tagging with a robust spaghetti tag effort to not only track mortality and migration, but to better understand this offshore anomaly.“It is shocking in a short period of time the speed and distance in which these fish traveled.  This information is so contrary to what we all have been told,” Dobbelaer said throwing in yet another $10,000 question. 

“So, what do we do with this astounding information and where do we go from here?”Tiedemman said that although individual striped bass exhibit variable rates of transit, it’s been well established they can move considerable distances in short periods of time. 

“For example, a fish we acoustically tagged on June 7, 2019 in Sandy Hook Bay was detected off Montauk less than a month later on July 3,” he said, adding “a study published in 2014 documented a striper moving from Delaware Bay to coastal waters off Massachusetts in just 9 days.”

Although the number of fish tagged in Northeast Striped Bass Study is still small and thus far only conducted with spring deployments, Tiedemman said it appears to be providing new information on spring and summer movements of larger bass in the region, adding “As the number of satellite tags deployed increases the data yielded by this effort will become more complete and robust.”

Again, are we seeing a pattern?  Probably too soon to tell, which is why the Northeast Striped Bass Study will continue with support from the fishing community.  And on July 3, our team deployed a third MiniPSAT device for 2020 in a 46-inch striper named Independence somewhere between the Porgy Hump and Pollock Rip off Montauk.Furthermore, our team is hoping to be back in action in October for yet another expedition somewhere off Gloucester, MA with Wicked Tuna skipper Dave Marciano in hopes of finding another jumbo to perhaps connect a few more of the striper dots. 

As of this writing, we again wait with baited breath.

READ MORE LIKE THIS AT www.thefisherman.com.

Dams and Atlantic Salmon

New modelling helps scientists explore what happens when endangered Atlantic salmon have access to more of their habitat.

From NOAA Fisheries
from The Fishing WireWeldon Dam on the Penobscot River in Maine.
Photo courtesy Brookfield Renewable PowerNOAA

Fisheries Atlantic salmon researchers have found that Atlantic salmon abundance can increase as more young fish and returning adults survive their encounters with dams. Also, progress in rebuilding the population will depend heavily on continuing stocking of hatchery fish raised especially for this purpose. This information is based on a life history model and new information on changes in the Penobscot River watershed.

The remaining remnant Atlantic salmon populations in the United States are located in Maine, with the largest population in the Penobscot River. Numerous factors play a role in salmon recovery — from predation and habitat degradation to pollution and climate change. The two most influential factors are survival of fish as they navigate dams in the river, and survival during the marine phase of their life. Atlantic salmon are born and remain in fresh water for 1-3 years and migrate downriver through estuaries into the sea. Then they spend 1 to 2 years at sea before returning to the river where they were born to spawn.Hatchery salmon smolt

“Our findings indicate that Atlantic salmon abundance can increase as survival at dams from the lower to the upper watershed increases. Hatchery supplementation will be necessary to sustain the population when survival is low in egg-to-smolt and marine life stages,” said Julie Nieland, a salmon researcher at the science center’s Woods Hole Laboratory in Massachusetts and lead author of the study. “Increases in survival during both of these life stages will likely be necessary to attain a self-sustaining population, especially if hatchery supplementation is reduced or discontinued.

Updating What We know About Salmon Survival
Nieland and center colleague Tim Sheehan used an existing dam impact analysis model to look at how survival at dams, increased survival at key life stages, and hatchery supplementation affected the Atlantic salmon population. The model was developed in 2012 and first used in federal licensing analyses for five hydroelectric dams in the Penobscot River.

Nieland and Sheehan updated the model, adding new data and better accounting for changes in the watershed. They ran different scenarios to assess the effects of changing smolt numbers, stocking locations, and increasing survival in the egg-to-smolt and marine life stages. They also looked at scenarios involving various dams to estimate abundance and distribution of Atlantic salmon within the watershed and at different life stages. This included the smolt and adult stages when salmon encounter dams.

Analyzing an Upstream DamFish passage at Weldon Dam on the Penobscot River in Maine

The study focused on Weldon Dam in Mattawamkeag, about 65 miles upstream from Bangor, Maine. The dam is the fifth and farthest upstream dam on the main stem of the Penobscot. It is currently undergoing relicensing by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as part of the Mattaceunk Project.

There are a large number of dams in the Penobscot watershed. A better understanding of how dams alter important ecological function for salmon has proven to be a key advance in managing salmon recovery. For example, moving stocking locations lower in the watershed helped maximize adult return rates.

Habitat Access Critical to Salmon Recovery
The current stocking strategy minimizes Atlantic salmon deaths from dams. However, the population of Atlantic salmon is currently found in the lower watershed where habitat is lower quality. Increased survival and passage at dams will allow salmon to access the upper watershed where there is higher quality habitat.

Habitat quality could be an important piece of the puzzle for Atlantic salmon. Higher quality habitat would likely produce more smolts than lower quality habitat, but the potential benefits of increased habitat quality are not yet quantifiable.Viewing box at a dam fish passage as salmon migrate upstream .

The authors suggest that future research should focus on measuring the biological response of Atlantic salmon to different habitat qualities and evaluating the effects of changing habitat conditions on Atlantic salmon productivity. This would allow researchers to identify areas where salmon would thrive and quantify how a changing climate affects productivity. These results will also pave the way for a data-driven assessment of future productivity for U.S. Atlantic salmon. Managers will then be able to develop realistic recovery goals while prioritizing restoration efforts in areas with the greatest potential future productivity.

In addition to Atlantic salmon, populations of American shad, blueback herring, alewife and American eel in the Penobscot watershed could also benefit from increased dam passage and dam removal. Better passage and survival at dams would also allow these species to access higher quality habitat further up in the river.

For more information, please contact Shelley Dawicki.

Keep Some Small Bass To Eat

Harvest of lots of small bass can mean more “slot” fish in the future in some overpopulated lakes like Arkansas’ Lake Brewer and others.

from The Fishing Wire

PLUMMERVILLE — A winning weight of 10 fish for just over 10 pounds would have most bass-fishing tournament directors contemplating a permanent blacklisting of the lake from their schedule, but Jared Pridmore, director of the Lake Brewer Bass Club and owner of JP Custom Baits in Arkansas, was nothing but smiles when he saw the results of his “Tiny Fish Tournament” in April.

The only thing that made him happier than the low weight was the sight of the fish-filled cooler where participants turned in their fish instead of releasing them to the water. 

Lake Brewer is the main drinking water supply for about 20,000 people in Conway County as well as another 60,000 people in and around the City of Conway in Faulkner County. It was constructed in 1983 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and maintenance of the lake was turned over to the Conway Corporation the year it was built.

In addition to providing water for nearby residents, the 1,166-acre reservoir has proven to be a fantastic fishery, even being featured in an episode of Major League Fishing a few years ago. 

“Brewer is a great lake, and about five years ago, you needed to have at least five fish for 20 pounds to have a chance of placing in a tournament there, but it’s getting full of small fish,” Pridmore said.

“Word got out that it was hot, and between fishing pressure and the tons of small fish, you don’t see nearly as many fish over the lake’s slot limit.”

The “slot limit” Pridmore refers to is a special regulation placed on some lakes where bass of a certain size must be released immediately back to the water to protect them from harvest. In Brewer’s case, any largemouth bass between 13 and 16 inches long cannot be kept for eating or weigh-ins to be released later, but fish under 13 inches and over 16 inches can be kept. 

According to Matt Schroeder, fisheries biologist at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Mayflower office, slot limits are intended to help produce and maintain good fish populations, but can have a negative effect if some harvest isn’t practiced.

“Lakes that have good growth and produce consistently good spawns are typical candidates for slot limits,” Schroeder said. “You’re wanting to protect your best spawning year classes of fish, while allowing harvest above and below that to thin out some of the competition for food. Your most abundant year-class of fish is going to be the youngest fish, so harvesting them lets the fish in the protected slot get more food and grow to larger sizes.”

But Schroeder warns that if no one is harvesting the small fish, the slot limit becomes ineffective and the lake may see slower growth from too many mouths to feed. 

“You’ve essentially created a minimum length limit at that point, and lakes with good recruitment and good growth can actually see a decline in production of large fish when that happens,” Schroeder said. “We want people catching and keeping the fish under the slot limit if it’s going to work.”

Pridmore, and Lake Brewer Bass Club president Lynn Hensley say they want to do what they can to help bring bigger fish back to the lake.

“You catch a ton of those small fish in here right now,” Hensley said. “And you’re not going to get big fish if all the food is going to those small ones.”

The April tiny fish tournament had some major differences from standard fishing tournaments:
Anglers could weigh in up to 10 largemouth bass per boat that were under the 13- to 16-inch slot limit. All largemouth bass weighed that were under the slot were put in a cooler for any of the anglers to take home and enjoy as long as they didn’t go over any possession limits. Even with the catch-and-keep rules in place, tournament directors still released a few fish.

“We let every team weigh in one fish that was over the slot limit in a separate big-fish contest, so anyone who caught a big one today would still get to enjoy a shot at a prize,” said Lynn Hensley, club president.

“We released all fish over the slot back to the water. We also released any Kentucky bass because they aren’t included in the slot limit regulations.”

Overall, the tournament was a success, and many of the anglers still had the same competitive spirit at weigh-in, although social distancing protocols in April prevented any large crowds at the weigh-in table. At the end of the day, the team of Luci and Chris Johnson from Prairie Grove took the title with 10 fish weighing a less than massive 10.35 pounds. 

“We had 22 teams show up to fish, which isn’t bad considering the social distancing that we all have to work through,” Pridmore said. “We even had folks like [the Johnsons] who drive down from Northwest Arkansas to join in the fun. We pulled a little over 100 fish under the slot limit from the lake.”

While 100 fish being removed isn’t likely to influence the growth rates of fish in a lake as large and fertile as Brewer, Ben Batten, AGFC chief of fisheries, says it’s more about promoting the principle that keeping fish is OK, and even needed in some cases.

“There are a lot more bass swimming in that lake than most anglers realize,” Batten said. “We don’t manage these lakes for fish to die of old age. Bass are a renewable resource, and we manage the lakes so people can enjoy fishing for them. Some people don’t want to keep any fish, and that’s fine, but others do want to catch and keep, and that’s totally fine, too. We set limits to make sure the resource remains and we factor harvest into that decision.”

Great American Outdoors Act Going to the President

President Trump signed it after this was posted.
Jim Shepherd
from The Fishing Wire

“We’re pretty confident we easily have the votes,” one outdoor organization’s CEO told me, adding, “it’s curious that it’s mostly western Republicans who don’t like the LWCF. Gulf States members – again primarily R’s- don’t think they get enough of a local deal since the money comes from offshore oil and gas, the fiscal conservatives will all vote no.”

To me that conversation didn’t sound negative, but it was a realistic view of what should and did happen. Shortly after our conversation, the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly (310 to 107) to finally approve the Great American Outdoors Act.

Passage means that after ten years of work, President Trump’s signature is all that lies between the continued decline of our national public lands and the allocation of sufficient federal funds to repair most of the critically shaky infrastructure that supports those precious public lands.

Technically, H.R. 7092 “establishes the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to support deferred maintenance projects on federal lands.”It also makes funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) permanent. The net/net is that the National Park Service, the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Education will get the funding for projects that have been deferred due to a shortage of funds.

As I’ve written before, it required ten years of legislative work by conservation groups, and represents a huge step toward taking care of our public lands going forward.In fact, I’ve learned that before some pretty strong lobbying President Trump was set to strip virtually all funding from the LWCF. That was before he met with conservation leaders and Congressional proponents.

They were successful in showing him the measure wasn’t just important, it was crucial.

In response, the President tweeted this on March 3: “I am calling on Congress to send me a Bill that fully and permanently funds the LWCF and restores our National Parks. When I sign it into law it will be HISTORIC for all our beautiful public lands.”He’s not the slightest bit disinclined to sign the bill. And that is one tweet that’s not any overstatement. Permanent funding means managers can finally create workable budgets, based on the assumption that the monies will be there.

In praising the passage, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said “In March, President Trump called on Congress to stop kicking the can down the road, fix the aging infrastructure at our national parks and permanently fund conservation projects through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He accomplished what previous Presidents have failed to do for decades, despite their lip service commitment to funding public land improvements.”

It is truly one of the most non-partisan measures to pass Congress in some time.

Last year, the National Park Service had 327 million visitors. They generated an economic impact estimated at $41 billion dollars. That supported 340,000 jobs. Granted, COVID-19 severely reduced visitation for the past few months, but as we all realize, the outdoors remains one of the safest options for everything from recreation to solitude.

Soon, the more than 5,500 miles of paved roads, 17,000 miles of trails and 24,000 buildings that comprise our National Parks can get some much-needed repair, making them even more alluring -and safe- for visitors.

And as the National Park traffic increases, businesses nearby see increases in traffic as well. It’s an economic engine that benefits everyone.

But we all know being outside cures a lot of the problems with our insides, don’t we?

We’ll keep you posted.

Submerged Aquatic Vegetation

Vegetation in the water makes fish heaven. Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program
NOAA Fisheries reminds us that submerged aquatic vegetation is one of the most productive fish habitats on earth.

Imagine this: you’re swimming at your favorite beach and you feel something slide across your foot. You panic, but only for a moment, because you realize that what you were touching was just a long, spindly water plant. Sure, you may have seen such plants washed up on beaches, or maybe you have removed it from a boat as you left the water for the day.

But have you ever stopped to think about what these plants actually do? It turns out, they actually support an entire ecosystem under the water! The term used for a rooted aquatic plant that grows completely under water is submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV). These plants occur in both freshwater and saltwater but in estuaries, where fresh and saltwater mix together, they can be an especially important habitat for fish, crabs, and other aquatic organisms.

SAV is a great habitat for fish, including commercially important species, because it provides them with a place to hide from predators and it hosts a buffet of small invertebrates and other prey. They essentially form a canopy, much like that of a forest but underwater. Burrowing organisms, like clams and worms, live in the sediments among the roots, while fish and crabs hide among the shoots and leaves, and ducks graze from above. It has been estimated that a single acre of SAV can be home to as many as 40,000 fish and 50 million small invertebrates! SAV in the Chesapeake Bay. Credit: Maryland Department of Natural Resources

SAV in the Chesapeake BayOne of the places we work to protect these aquatic plants—and other habitats important for fish)—is in the Chesapeake Bay (Maryland and Virginia). The Bay is home to several different species of SAV. They live in the relatively freshwaters near the head of the Bay and down to its mouth, which is as salty as the ocean. Approximately 90 percent of the historical extent of SAV disappeared around the mid-20th century due to poor water quality, coastal development activities, and disease.

Since then, there have been major efforts to reduce pollution to the bay and help SAV reestablishin areas where it was historically found. We regularly work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ensure that coastal projects avoid damaging this important habitat. For example, the Corps might propose to issue a permit to a private landowner to build a structure such as a pier or breakwater in SAV. We would then make recommendations to avoid these areas.

If the areas are unavoidable, we advocate for different construction approaches to minimize impacts such as shading or filling.Dead Zones Giving You Heartburn? Have an Antacid!One amazing recent finding is that SAV actually changes the acidity of near-shore waters. A recent study in the journal Naturedescribes this phenomenon in the Chesapeake Bay. SAV located at the head of the bay reduces the acidity of water in areas downstream. Areas of low oxygen form when carbon dioxide gas is released by fish, bacteria, and other aquatic organisms. As they respire, or breathe, they take up oxygen and release carbon dioxide as part of normal biological operation.

These “dead zones” are areas with oxygen levels below what is necessary to support fish, shellfish, and other aquatic life.During the warm summer months in the Chesapeake Bay, there are many aquatic organisms respiring. This results in much of the available oxygen being consumed and leaving an excess of dissolved carbon dioxide. Another effect of all this carbon dioxide is that parts of the Bay become more acidic. This is stressful for many organisms especially those with shells like oysters and mussels. That’s where SAV comes in.

During the growing season, SAV absorbs dissolved carbon dioxide. With help from the sun’s rays, they turn that carbon into leaves, shoots, and roots much like other plants. In the process, oxygen is released into the water, as well as small crystals of calcium carbonate. They essentially behave as antacids as they flow into acidic waters downstream. This is a great example of how conservation of one resource can have cascading effects. SAV carbon filtration benefits commercial fisheries such as oyster aquaculture and, ultimately, the entire Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. SAV growing in shallow water near Havre de Grace, MD. Credit: Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program

SAV as a Carbon SpongeIncreasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is also a major contributing factor in global climate change. There is a lot of interest in harnessing the power of our natural biological environment to soak up this excess carbon. SAV is an important piece in this puzzle. Aquatic plants are highly productive, which means they absorb a lot of carbon dioxide. The carbon captured by these plants has been termed “blue carbon” since it primarily occurs in the water. 

Blue carbon has been receiving a lot of attention lately as scientists have discovered that aquatic plants are very efficient at storing carbon in sediments. They also keep it there over long periods of time. Studies have estimated that underwater grasses globally can store approximately 10 percent of the carbon in the entire ocean in the form of rich aquatic soils. Ultimately, this means that efforts to protect and restore SAV can also help to reduce the effects of climate change.

Take a Second Look at SAVMaybe next time you feel a spindly plant brush your foot in the water, you won’t run away. Instead, dive down and see what critters may be hiding among the underwater grasses! You might be surprised to find a crab lumbering through the stems or school of young fish cruising through the green leaves.