2010 Year in Review: Chesapeake


Striped Bass Program

The spring, 2010 spawning stock survey indicated that there were 17 age-classes of striped bass present on the Potomac River and Upper Bay spawning grounds. These fish ranged in age from 2 to 18 years old. Male striped bass ranged in age from 2 to 15 years old, with 3 year old and 5 year old males being the most abundant component of the male striped bass spawning stock. Age 14 (1996 year-class) females were the major contributors to the 2010 total female abundance. Age 8 and older females comprised 94% of the female spawning stock in 2010, a slight increase from 2009.

The 2010 striped bass juvenile index, the annual measure of striped bass spawning success in Chesapeake Bay, is 5.6. This is below the average long-term average of 11.6. During the survey, biologists identified and counted more than 37,000 fish of 50 species, including 737 young-of-year (YOY) striped bass.

Variable reproductive success is a normal condition of striped bass populations. Typically, several years of average reproduction are interspersed with occasional large and small year-classes. Large year-classes in successful spawning years like 2001, 2003 and 2005 bolster the population by offsetting less successful years. The largest year-class ever measured occurred in 1996

Other species present in higher than normal abundance during the 2010 juvenile striped bass survey were spot, yellow perch and river herring. YOY spot, a species important as forage and popular among recreational anglers, were abundant and widespread in the Bay. Spot reproduction was the highest documented since 2005. White perch reproduction was above average in the Upper Bay, and average (healthy) bay-wide. River herring reproduction rebounded slightly from consecutive years of below average reproduction to values similar to 2007. Any increase in herring reproduction is encouraging because adult river herring populations remain at low levels and face many challenges including blockages to upstream migration and degraded water quality.

DNR biologists have monitored the reproductive success of striped bass and other species in Maryland's portion of the Chesapeake Bay annually since 1954.

DNR biologists have monitored the reproductive success of striped bass and other species in Maryland's portion of the Chesapeake Bay annually since 1954. Twenty-two survey sites are located in the four major spawning systems: Choptank, Potomac, and Nanticoke rivers, and the Upper Bay. Biologists visit each site monthly from July through September, collecting fish samples with two sweeps of a 100-foot beach seine. The index is calculated as the average catch of young-of-year fish per sample. The Maryland Chesapeake Bay striped bass spawning stock is still healthy and is watched closely by DNR biologists and monitored in partnership with other coastal states through the Atlantic State's Marine Fisheries Commission. For more information, click here.

During the 2010 trophy season, biologists intercepted 238 fishing trips, interviewed 601 anglers, and examined 263 striped bass. The average total length of striped bass sampled was 913 mm total length (mm TL) (35.9 inches), which was the same as in 2009. The average weight was 7.8 kg (17.1 lbs). Most fish sampled from the trophy fishery were between seven and fourteen years old. The 2000 year-class (age 10) was the most frequently observed year-class, constituting 23% of the sampled harvest. Average catch rate based on angler interviews was 0.5 fish per hour.

MD DNR biologists continue to tag and release striped bass as part of an interstate, coastal population study. Approximately 1,388 striped bass were tagged and released for growth and mortality studies. Anglers encountering a tagged striped bass are asked to help management efforts by reporting the capture of tagged fish by calling the phone number printed on the tag.

MD DNR, Fisheries Service is continuing its voluntary angler survey on the Internet (click here) for recreational anglers to report their striped bass catch. This survey is designed to obtain important size data on harvested and released striped bass that is not otherwise available to the MD DNR

Anadromous Restoration 2010 Year in Review

American and Hickory Shad Restoration

The project goal is the creation of self-sustaining populations of American and hickory shad through introduction of hatchery-produced larvae and juveniles. The original target watersheds for restoration efforts included the Patuxent, Choptank, and Nanticoke (Marshyhope Creek) Rivers. Nanticoke River restoration work is a cooperative program with Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife. GenOn Power Company Power Company also cooperates with DNR restoration projects through their Chalk Point Aquaculture Center. DNR surveys in the early 1990s indicated severely depleted shad stocks in these watersheds which historically supported thriving commercial shad fisheries. Restoration of these watersheds for the most part progressed as expected as wild juvenile and adult populations increased in abundance. Beginning in 2006, most Atlantic Coast states began to observe increased mortality in American shad stocks. It is hypothesized that mortality is occurring to out-migrating young-of-year shad or sub-adults in coastal waters. It appears that Maryland is impacted by this mortality since many of our restoration indicators are trending negatively over the past several years.

Photo Credit: Jay Fleming


After careful consideration of recent coastal shad population trends, DNR project biologists determined that a change in approach was warranted for this restoration project, and suspended stocking the Patuxent River and Marshyhope Creek. Project resources were then focused on stocking and monitoring in the Choptank watershed. This will permit maximum stocking impact and more detailed analysis and assessment activities. Limited monitoring of adults and juveniles will continue in the Patuxent River in order to maintain trend data.

Initial results from the 2010 shad restoration effort are promising. Wild juvenile abundance appears to be stable for the past few years. It is the projects assertion that the continued high stocking levels of the Choptank River watershed will stimulate increased adult shad populations in the coming years. Additional analysis of the 2010 restoration effort on the Choptank watershed will continue in 2011.

Hickory shad should begin to arrive in early March, followed by American shad in early April.

Anglers targeting shad will have plenty of options in the spring of 2011. Hickory shad should begin to arrive in early March, followed by American shad in early April. Hickory shad runs will peak in early to mid-April when water temperatures rise above 55 degrees. American shad traditionally hit their peak in late April through mid-May. The highest concentration of shad on the Patuxent River should begin about a mile or so below Queen Anne Bridge around the 4H camp, and continue above the bridge at Route 50. American shad can also occur down to Wayson's Corner at the Route 4 Bridge. While there is some access by land, a small boat, kayak or canoe would enable the angler to cover more water. If you are traveling by boat, be aware of the tide. Boating traffic is only advisable on a flooding or high tide. Choptank River shad fisherman may want to concentrate their efforts from Christian Park located at Red Bridges Road downstream to the Rt. 313 Bridge in Greensboro. This area has proven to be very productive for hickory shad. Tuckahoe Creek has produced some decent hickory shad fishing in the past, principally below Crouse Mill Dam. However, anglers have reported reduced success over the last several years. Marshyhope Creek shad tend to congregate in the large pools above the Rt. 306 Bridge in Federalsburg.

Atlantic sturgeon restoration

Fisheries Service has teamed up with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), GenOn Power Company and University of Maryland to restore spawning populations of Atlantic sturgeon to Maryland's Chesapeake Bay tributaries. This prehistoric fish historically spawned in most of Maryland's larger tidal rivers. The Atlantic sturgeon is a species like no other in the Chesapeake Bay. Sturgeon originated 120 million years ago and continue to exist today. They can live more than 60 years and the largest Atlantic sturgeon specimen ever recorded reached 14 feet and 811 pounds. Virtually the entire Maryland spawning stock was depleted during a period of over-fishing in the late 1800s and it has not recovered to this day. There is still a small spawning population in Virginia's James River. Since Maryland has no documented spawning population, our restoration strategy is based on stocking hatchery fish to evaluate habitat suitability and reintroduce fish of "local" origin that will return to spawn in Maryland upon reaching maturity.

Maryland Sturgeon Reward Program

Even though there are no documented spawning populations, Maryland waters do support migrant fish that were spawned in other East Coast tributaries. These fish move great distances along the Atlantic Coast while foraging for food. Wild, migrant Atlantic sturgeon are collected from commercial fisherman in Maryland waters as part of the Maryland DNR and USFWS- Maryland Fishery Resources Office (USFWS-MFRO) jointly operated Maryland Sturgeon Reward Program. A monetary reward is offered for the report and delivery of live Atlantic sturgeon. The Maryland Sturgeon Reward Program is used to monitor sturgeon populations in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay and provides suitable specimens for introduction into the captive brood stock population.

In 2010, thirteen wild sturgeon caught by local waterman were added to the Maryland Atlantic sturgeon captive brood stock.

In 2010, thirteen wild sturgeon caught by local waterman were added to the Maryland Atlantic sturgeon captive brood stock. All of these migrant fish are sub-adult age (three to eight years). Female Atlantic sturgeon do not reach maturity for 15-20 years in the Chesapeake region. Therefore, these fish will be cultured for many years before they are old enough to spawn in the hatchery. While we are culturing the brood stock to maturity, we are busy acquiring the tools, technology and methodology that will be required for such an ambitious undertaking.

Atlantic Sturgeon Brood Stock Inventories

DNR Fisheries Service sturgeon conservation partnership, in cooperation with the University of Maryland, is currently rearing 32 sub-adult and adult sturgeon at the University of Maryland's Center for Environmental Science Aquatic and Restoration Ecology Laboratory at Horn Point (AREL, Choptank River) and Manning State Fish Hatchery. These fish originated as wild migrants collected from the Chesapeake Bay and are being used for brood stock development.

We also maintain a population of Hudson River origin Atlantic sturgeon. These fish originated as hatchery progeny of Hudson River brood stock spawned at USFWS-Northeast Fishery Center (NFC) between 1992 and 1998. These domestic Hudson River origin sturgeon are cultured for research on reproductive physiology, spawning techniques and culture methodologies. The majority of these fish are cultured at the GenOn Chalk Point Generating Station. As of March 2010 the Chalk Point facility supports 26 (17 females, 8 males, 1 undifferentiated) Hudson-origin sturgeon, at an average weight of 20.2kg.

Photo Credit: Jay Fleming


A small number of fertilized eggs and/or yolk sac larvae (~7,500) are imported each year from the Acadian Sturgeon and Caviar Company (St. John, New Brunswick, Canada) for research purposes. Research is primarily focused on improving culture techniques, larval and juvenile nutrition, marking and streamside culture to address imprinting issues. As these fish mature, they are also useful to investigate recirculating aquaculture system designs, fish health, reproductive physiology and adult nutrition. Surplus fish are utilized in education and outreach activities. As with the Hudson-origin fish, these fish are tracked through a chain of custody procedure according to a plan approved by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Atlantic Sturgeon Technical Committee and will not be released into coastal waters. Canadian-origin sturgeon are currently cultured at AREL, Chalk Point, DNR Joseph Manning Fish Hatchery and an experimental streamside culture facility at GenOn Potomac River Generating Station in Alexandria, Virginia.

Culture techniques

We are attempting to culture a captive brood stock, which will be used to produce hatchery origin sturgeon for release into Maryland tributaries. Hatchery-origin larvae and juveniles should return to the stocked tributaries to spawn. Experimental stocking will be used to evaluate habitat suitability in target tributaries. The captive brood fish originate as Chesapeake Bay migrants. These fish are foraging in Maryland waters but they originate from other Distinct Population Segments (DPS). Genetic studies conducted for DNR by the USFWS-NFC indicate that sturgeon captured in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay predominantly originate from the James River (Chesapeake Bay DPS) and Hudson River (New York Bight DPS).

Experimental trials were conducted in 2010 at DNR's Manning State Fish Hatchery, University of Maryland Aquaculture Restoration and Ecology (AREL) laboratory (Cambridge, MD), and GenOn Power Company Potomac River Generating Station (PRGS) Alexandria, VA to refine Atlantic sturgeon culture procedures. Yolk-sac larvae were obtained from a Canadian source (Acadian Sturgeon and Caviar Company, Saint John, NB, Canada) for this purpose. One goal was to identify potential stumbling blocks to successful early life stage culture at our facilities. The other goal was to construct recirculating and flow through aquaculture systems so we will have the ability to culture fish throughout the year under optimal conditions. Manning Hatchery was originally designed as a flow-through facility so it is a major departure to transition into recirculating systems.

Photo Credit: Jay Fleming


Maintaining water quality is a challenge in this type of culture and the Canadian-source fish allow us to troubleshoot systems and techniques before we have the ecologically valuable larvae and juveniles that we hope to produce from our native captive brood stock. After several years of culturing Canadian sturgeon, we feel we now have the ability to successfully culture larvae at our facilities. Operation, improvement and refinement of recirculating systems at Manning SFH, AREL and GenOn PRGS will continue to evolve.

Streamside culture

Atlantic sturgeon are believed to imprint on their natal rivers, allowing them to return to spawn upon maturity. The mechanism and timing of this homing behavior, or fidelity, are not fully understood at this time. It is critical that any fish stocked as larvae or juveniles will imprint to the target tributary, so that they may successfully return to spawn. One way to improve the chances that appropriate imprinting will occur is to culture larvae and juveniles in water from the target tributary. Development of streamside culture techniques could insure that any fish stocked will imprint to their river of "origin" and return to spawn when they reach maturity. This technique is especially important since Atlantic sturgeon take fifteen to twenty years to mature. This extended maturity schedule means that any imprinting failure will not be detected for up to two decades.

In order to address this issue, DNR conducted an experimental trial with the GenOn Power Company PRGS to investigate the potential for streamside Atlantic sturgeon culture. GenOn Power Company contributed significant financial resources, construction manpower and cooperation to implement the culture operation. GenOn Power Company has agreed to financially and operationally support the facility through at least 2013. This power generation plant is located on the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia. The Potomac River is a likely candidate as a target tributary for Atlantic sturgeon restoration so this partnership was a good fit. This system is a flow-through design built to utilize the Potomac River as a water source. In 2008- 09, several unsuccessful design changes were made to this facility in attempt to control sedimentation issues. In 2010, a commercial size rotating drum filter was installed to control sedimentation for larvae culture. In 2011 an industrial chiller will be installed to mitigate summertime high water temperatures. GenOn Power Company will provide up to $325,000 over the five year period to support restoration activities of Atlantic sturgeon.

Spawning trials

On July 21, 2010, three Atlantic sturgeon males cultured at UMD-AREL were hormonally –induced to spawn with Luteinizing Hormone-Releasing Hormone analogue (LHRHa). Sturgeon in this tank were conditioned for temperature, salinity and photoperiod for six to eight months to mimic the natural environment. These males were selected after a laparoscopic evaluation determined their state of sexual maturation. The sturgeon were evaluated 24 hours post-injection. Of the three males injected, one successfully spermiated. Milt was extracted with Tygon® tubing attached to a 60 ml syringe. The male produced 153 ml of sperm. The sample was packaged on ice, oxygenated in plastic containers and transported to UM-Crane Aquaculture Facility and analyzed for motility, osmality, pH, concentration and viability. The samples proved to be of high quality with a motility of 70% and viability was measured at 98% after five minutes. Samples were cryogenically preserved.

On July 28, 2010, seven Atlantic sturgeon males cultured at GenOn Power Company's Chalk Point Generating Station were hormonally-induced to spawn with LHRHa. Of the eight males injected, none successfully spermiated. Atlantic sturgeon broodstock are typically induced in mid July as the photoperiod lengthens and the temperatures rise to 22-24 degrees Celsius. During the summer of 2010, water temperatures rose drastically in June and project managers made the decision not to induce the males at 31 oC. Attempts will be made in 2011 to induce the captive males with LHRHa at temperatures suitable for spermiation. These trials were conducted within the jurisdiction of the USFWS Aquatic Animal Drug Approval Program (AADAP) INAD #8391 and #8061.

Laparoscopic surgery

Laparoscopic surgery is being performed to assess sexual maturity. In this process, an endoscope is inserted through a small incision in the body cavity. This minimally invasive procedure monitors the progress of sexual maturity without imparting undue stress to the animal. Perfecting the laparoscopic surgery procedures used to determine sex and maturity is one goal of the Maryland Atlantic Sturgeon Restoration program.

Photo Credit: Jay Fleming


In October 2010, we examined the stress levels on individual sturgeon associated with this minimally invasive surgery. This cooperative study was performed by staff from DNR Fisheries Service Anadromous Restoration project, DNR Fisheries Service Fish & Wildlife Health project (Cooperative Oxford Laboratory), AREL and GenOn Power Company. The study required laparoscopic surgeries to be performed on 60 Atlantic sturgeon cultured at the GenOn Power Company CPGS. Stress levels were analyzed by quantifying the cortisol levels in each fish at two and twenty-six hours post-surgery. Cortisol is usually referred to as the "stress hormone" as it responds to stress and anxiety. Initial results are very encouraging, as the cortisol response was barely elevated at two hours post-surgery and back to normal by 26 hours. Analysis of data obtained from this experiment will continue in 2011.

Other research

Project personnel work cooperatively with many other partners to conduct needed research:

  • DNA analysis (USFWS-NFC)
  • Blood plasma analysis for maturity and sex assessment (Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) and the USFWS Bozeman Fish Technology Center)
  • Cryogenic preservation of sturgeon sperm (University of Maryland Crane Aquaculture Facility and USFWS-NFC)
  • Captive sturgeon diets (AREL)

Future of Atlantic Sturgeon Restoration

The Fisheries Service Atlantic Sturgeon Restoration Project is a great example of the importance of cooperative partnership efforts. This project utilizes the resources and expertise of the federal government, state government, university researchers and commercial enterprises to reach a common and mutually beneficial goal. Restoration of this historically and ecologically important species cannot occur without the contribution of all the partners.

In 2009, the National Marine Fisheries Service received a petition to list all five Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of Atlantic sturgeon as either endangered or threatened. The five DPS include Gulf of Maine, New York Bight, Chesapeake Bay, Carolina and the South Atlantic. DPS proposed for listing as endangered are New York Bight, Chesapeake Bay, Carolina and South Atlantic. Gulf of Maine DPS is proposed to be listed as threatened. Listing the Chesapeake Bay DPS will severely limit or end DNR restoration efforts and research conducted by federal and state agencies. Most of the current research will not be permitted under endangered status.

Funding is also an obstacle to Atlantic sturgeon restoration in Maryland. It is difficult to obtain continuous funding over several decades for a single species. Sturgeon researchers from Virginia and Maryland have teamed up to create the Chesapeake Bay Atlantic Sturgeon Conservation Program. The purpose of this group is to create a comprehensive conservation strategy for Atlantic sturgeon in the entire Chesapeake Bay and work to obtain financial support to conduct the necessary research. Cooperators include DNR, University of Maryland, GenOn Power Company, USFWS, VIMS, Virginia Commonwealth University, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Our focus in the near future will be to secure long-term funding in order to continue this important work.

Summer Migrant Species

Weakfish, bluefish, Atlantic croaker, summer flounder and spot are all very popular migratory sport fish in Maryland. Fisheries Services has conducted summer pound net sampling since 1993 to track population trends in summer migrant species. DNR biologists examined fish captured in commercial pound nets, from cooperating watermen, from late May through September from 1993-2010. Beginning in 2009 data from fish harvested in Maryland was also collected at seafood dealers for these species. Data collected from these surveys as well as commercial landings, estimates of recreational landings and knowledge of each species life history are used to evaluate and manage these species in Maryland. All of these species migrate in and out of Maryland waters and are managed on a regional basis, usually their entire range along the east coast of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Atlantic croaker population had been high for much of the late 1990's adm 2000's. Maryland recreational anglers landed between 825,578 and 2,674,800 fish from 1997 to 2007. All eleven of those years were above the long-term average of 752,436 fish according to estimates by the National Marine Fisheries Service. In 2008 the recreational harvest estimate decreased to 689,184 fish, but rebounded in 2009 to 1,038,428 fish. 2010 estimates are not available at this time. The average length of croaker examined from the pound net survey in 2010 was 11.6 inches; this was average for the 18-year time series. Atlantic croaker from seafood dealer sampling averaged 10.6 inches and 0.57 pounds. Fish aged from the 2009 survey were between 0 and 8 years old, a decrease in the maximum age fish compared to recent years. The croaker population tends to have cyclic patterns of abundance, with several high years followed by a decline to several low years followed by recovery. The recent high abundance period has endured longer than those of the past. Total landings of croaker along the East Coast have been declining slowly the past few years. An evaluation of the population by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) conducted in 2009 determined the stock was not experiencing overfishing.

Weakfish have experienced a sharp decline in numbers coast wide. Recreational catch estimates by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for Maryland fell steadily from 475,348 fish in 2000 to 493 fish in 2006, and was only 2,314 weakfish in 2009, well bellow the long term average of 315,120 fish per year. The 2010 average length for weakfish from the pound net survey was 10.0 inches, the lowest average of the 18 years of the survey. No weakfish were encountered during seafood dealer sampling. Fish aged from the 2009 pound net survey were all age one or two. These findings agree with the recently completed ASMFC coast wide population assessment, which found the weakfish population to be depleted, and being made up of mostly small younger fish. The recent decline in abundance has occurred despite regulations designed to increase the population. This was determined to be caused by an increase in natural mortality. Expect to see continued low catches of legal size weakfish and continuation of restrictive recreational and commercial limits in 2011. The restrictions will help protect the remaining population, until natural mortality returns to lower levels and the population can rebuild.

Spot is a short-lived species with high growth rates. This type of fishery tends to be more variable from year to year, and more dependent upon the number of young of the year spot and their survival to adulthood. Juvenile indexes have been lower in recent years than the long-term average, until 2010 which was an exceptionally good year for spot juvenile production. Recreational catch estimates in 2007 through 2009 were above the long term average of 1,716,025 spot per year. Spot mean length from the 2010 pound net survey was about average for the 18 year survey. The percent of spot over 10 inches in the pound net samples has been decreasing for the past several years. (less than one percent in 2008 - 2010). Spot not only provide for fun recreation and tasty meals, but also provide quality forage for more popular sport fish such as weakfish, bluefish and striped bass. A large winter kill of juvenile spot occurred in the Bay this year. Hopefully the exceptional year-class was large enough to still provide a boost to the population this coming fishing season.

Bluefish recreational harvest estimates were high through most of the 1980's and have since been somewhat stable at a lower level. Average length of bluefish from the pound net survey in 2010 was 11.7 inches, similar to the long term average. This was an increase from the bellow average mean lengths of 2008 and 2009. The seafood dealer average also increased in 2010 to 17.2 inches. Maryland's portion of the Chesapeake Bay is primarily a nursery area for bluefish, with a small and variable number of larger fish migrating here for anglers to catch. It is not fully understood why larger bluefish migration into the Bay is so variable, but availability of prey is most likely one of the main factors. The latest coast wide population assessment indicated the population was not overfished and overfishing is not occurring.

Summer flounder average length from the pound net survey was 14.7 inches in 2010, a little above average for the 18 year survey. Flounder from the seafood dealer sampling averaged 17 inches and 2.1 pounds. A larger percentage of flounder were above the minimum recreational size limit in 2010 compared to 2009. The 2008 coast wide stock assessment indicated the population was not overfished and overfishing is not occurring, but that the population was not increasing as rapidly as need to reach the target population levels. This is the reason higher size limits and lower creel limits have been established, to reduce the number of fish being removed and allow the population to increase to a sustainable size.

Resident Species Project

The Resident Species Project is charged with monitoring and assessing recreationally important tidal fish species that do not migrate out of state waters. These species include white perch, yellow perch, and channel catfish. Resident Species Project conducts fyke net surveys during the spring and a trawl survey during December – February.

Results from our fieldwork and assessments indicate that quality-sized channel catfish abundance has continued to increase. Medium-sized channel catfish that were spawned over the last few years should be growing into respectable sizes. In general, it takes channel catfish about 4 years to reach 16". Populations have rebounded from low levels, but bay-wide recruitment has been variable. Based on our winter trawl survey in the upper Bay, the 2006 and 2008 year-classes appear relatively strong, and the 2005, 2007 year-classes relatively weak. The variable reproductive success suggests that populations will probably stabilize and anglers should expect a similar 2011 fishing season, with perhaps slightly larger channel catfish. Interestingly, channel catfish reproduction in the Choptank River has been very good and a fyke net survey indicates that the population has been growing nearly linearly from 2004 to 2008. Abundance declined slightly in 2009 and 2010, but they remain at high levels compared to the late 1990's. Anglers and commercial fishermen have reported continually increasing numbers of flathead catfish in the Susquehanna River. These voracious predators are non-native and considered an invasive species. Studies in other areas where flathead catfish have been introduced show that they can drastically alter the native and naturalized fish communities. Another non-native catfish species, the blue catfish, may similarly out-compete channel catfish and other species. The blue catfish has now been found in many Bay tributaries including the Potomac River, Nanticoke River, and Elk River.

White perch fishers experienced a very good summer and fall during 2008 and a slightly less productive 2009 and 2010. White perch were last assessed during 2008. The assessment showed that populations were very healthy and fishing mortality was low. Recruitment in 2007 was very good, poor in 2008 and about average in 2009 and 2010. Therefore, the population should be fairly stable over the next few years. The length structures of the populations that we sample also indicate that the abundance of larger white perch should continue to increase in 2011.

Yellow perch runs during the spring of 2010 were very good. Yellow perch fishing in the Susquehanna River, Northeast River and Chester River were particularly good. Overall, the catch per angler hour was nearly identical in 2010 to the 2009 success rate. An updated assessment of upper Bay populations indicated that abundance is stable, but reproduction was below average from 2006 -- 2008. Based on our winter trawl survey, young-of year yellow perch produced in 2009 was near average. Those fish produced in 2009 will not enter into the fishery until 2012. Fishing mortality was estimated to have decreased since 2004, and currently is at low levels. Spring fishing during 2011 should be very good in the upper Bay and in the Choptank River as strong year-classes produced in the early 2000's grow to large sizes. We expect anglers to have about the same success as last year with possibly fewer undersized yellow perch to sort through. Anglers are reminded that there is an on-line yellow perch angler creel survey on the DNR web page, or by clicking here.

Simply log in and provide information on where you fished and what yellow perch you caught. The information has proved very useful in our assessments.

2010 Summary-Eel By: Keith Whiteford

Over the last 10 years Maryland's commercial American eel fishery ranks #1 among all Atlantic coastal states, accounting for more than 40% of the total American eel harvest.

American eels are harvested baywide in both the main stem and nearly all tributaries in Maryland's tidal portion of the Chesapeake Bay. Over 95% of the eels are captured with eel pots. Over the last 10 years Maryland's commercial American eel fishery ranks #1 among all Atlantic coastal states, accounting for more than 40% of the total American eel harvest. Commercial eel landings have remained steady around 300,000 lbs over the last seven years, while commercial effort (the amount of pots fished) remains 35% lower the last 4 years than the 18 year average. Yellow eel relative abundance indices based on MD commercial landings continued to show a positive trend through 2009.

Since 1997, DNR Fishery Service has conducted an American eel study. Major components of this study include collection and analysis of harvest data from the commercial eel fishery, monitoring of the eel fishery through representative subsampling of commercial catches, the development of American eel size and age structure in selected tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, an eel pot study in the Sassafras River, and an annual young of year abundance survey in the Coastal Bays.

Our juvenile eel survey in the Coastal Bays in 2010 produced our largest catches in the eleven year survey after 2 consecutive below average years. The overall 11 year juvenile index continues to be quite variable and has showed no apparent trend. The yellow eel relative abundance index from our eel pot sampling continued a positive trend in 2010 with catches being significantly higher for 2009 and 2010 than 5 of the previous 6 sampled years.

DNR also participates in multi-state management of the American eel through multiple technical committees established by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). ASMFC, which was formed 65 years ago by the 15 Atlantic coastal states, has management authority for 22 inter-jurisdictional species groups.

Summer Migrant Species

Weakfish, bluefish, Atlantic croaker, summer flounder and spot are all very popular migratory sport fish in Maryland. Fisheries Services has conducted summer pound net sampling since 1993 to track population trends in summer migrant species. DNR biologists examined fish captured in commercial pound nets, from cooperating watermen, from late May through September from 1993-2010. Beginning in 2009 data from fish harvested in Maryland was also collected at seafood dealers for these species. Data collected from these surveys as well as commercial landings, estimates of recreational landings and knowledge of each species life history are used to evaluate and manage these species in Maryland. All of these species migrate in and out of Maryland waters and are managed on a regional basis, usually their entire range along the east coast of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Atlantic croaker population had been high for much of the late 1990's adm 2000's. Maryland recreational anglers landed between 825,578 and 2,674,800 fish from 1997 to 2007. All eleven of those years were above the long-term average of 752,436 fish according to estimates by the National Marine Fisheries Service. In 2008 the recreational harvest estimate decreased to 689,184 fish, but rebounded in 2009 to 1,038,428 fish. 2010 estimates are not available at this time. The average length of croaker examined from the pound net survey in 2010 was 11.6 inches; this was average for the 18-year time series. Atlantic croaker from seafood dealer sampling averaged 10.6 inches and 0.57 pounds. Fish aged from the 2009 survey were between 0 and 8 years old, a decrease in the maximum age fish compared to recent years. The croaker population tends to have cyclic patterns of abundance, with several high years followed by a decline to several low years followed by recovery. The recent high abundance period has endured longer than those of the past. Total landings of croaker along the East Coast have been declining slowly the past few years. An evaluation of the population by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) conducted in 2009 determined the stock was not experiencing overfishing.

Weakfish have experienced a sharp decline in numbers coast wide. Recreational catch estimates by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for Maryland fell steadily from 475,348 fish in 2000 to 493 fish in 2006, and was only 2,314 weakfish in 2009, well bellow the long term average of 315,120 fish per year. The 2010 average length for weakfish from the pound net survey was 10.0 inches, the lowest average of the 18 years of the survey. No weakfish were encountered during seafood dealer sampling. Fish aged from the 2009 pound net survey were all age one or two. These findings agree with the recently completed ASMFC coast wide population assessment, which found the weakfish population to be depleted, and being made up of mostly small younger fish. The recent decline in abundance has occurred despite regulations designed to increase the population. This was determined to be caused by an increase in natural mortality. Expect to see continued low catches of legal size weakfish and continuation of restrictive recreational and commercial limits in 2011. The restrictions will help protect the remaining population, until natural mortality returns to lower levels and the population can rebuild.

Spot is a short-lived species with high growth rates. This type of fishery tends to be more variable from year to year, and more dependent upon the number of young of the year spot and their survival to adulthood. Juvenile indexes have been lower in recent years than the long-term average, until 2010 which was an exceptionally good year for spot juvenile production. Recreational catch estimates in 2007 through 2009 were above the long term average of 1,716,025 spot per year. Spot mean length from the 2010 pound net survey was about average for the 18 year survey. The percent of spot over 10 inches in the pound net samples has been decreasing for the past several years. (less than one percent in 2008 - 2010). Spot not only provide for fun recreation and tasty meals, but also provide quality forage for more popular sport fish such as weakfish, bluefish and striped bass. A large winter kill of juvenile spot occurred in the Bay this year. Hopefully the exceptional year-class was large enough to still provide a boost to the population this coming fishing season.

Bluefish recreational harvest estimates were high through most of the 1980's and have since been somewhat stable at a lower level. Average length of bluefish from the pound net survey in 2010 was 11.7 inches, similar to the long term average. This was an increase from the bellow average mean lengths of 2008 and 2009. The seafood dealer average also increased in 2010 to 17.2 inches. Maryland's portion of the Chesapeake Bay is primarily a nursery area for bluefish, with a small and variable number of larger fish migrating here for anglers to catch. It is not fully understood why larger bluefish migration into the Bay is so variable, but availability of prey is most likely one of the main factors. The latest coast wide population assessment indicated the population was not overfished and overfishing is not occurring.

Summer flounder average length from the pound net survey was 14.7 inches in 2010, a little above average for the 18 year survey. Flounder from the seafood dealer sampling averaged 17 inches and 2.1 pounds. A larger percentage of flounder were above the minimum recreational size limit in 2010 compared to 2009. The 2008 coast wide stock assessment indicated the population was not overfished and overfishing is not occurring, but that the population was not increasing as rapidly as need to reach the target population levels. This is the reason higher size limits and lower creel limits have been established, to reduce the number of fish being removed and allow the population to increase to a sustainable size.

Maryland Blue Crab Management Program

The blue crab is a valuable commercial and recreational species; the Maryland Fisheries Service and partner organization VA Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) monitors the blue crab population in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries using surveys such as the Winter Dredge and the Summer Trawl surveys. With the information from these surveys crab stocks can be managed and protected for future generations.

The Chesapeake Bay's blue crab population has increased substantially for the second straight year, with the results of the most recent winter dredge survey in 2010 showing a dramatic 60-percent increase in Maryland's crab population. The Chesapeake Bay blue crab population is estimated to be 658 million crabs, which indicates that 2008 management measures put into place through a historic collaboration with Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission are continuing to pay dividends with the crab population at its highest level since 1997.

Last year, Chesapeake Bay watermen actually harvested more crabs than in seven of the past 10 years, confirming the long-held belief that a healthy harvesting industry can coexist with regulations that protect the long term health of the blue crab population.

Managers estimate abundance, the number of crabs estimated to be living in the Chesapeake Bay, by multiplying the estimated density of all crabs by the area of the bay. Each year the overwintering mortality, those crabs that die in the winter, is estimated and abundance is adjusted for that loss.

Total crab abundance increased in 2010 and is above the survey average. Juvenile crab abundance showed an increase in 2010 after little change in 2009. Spawning age crabs increased in 2010 and met the interim target of 200 million adult crabs set by scientists in 2008.

The results of the winter dredge survey are reported as density of crabs. This is the average number of crabs we find within a 1,000 meter by 1,000 meter area (1,000 meter squared or 1000m2). The density of crabs for the different age categories is calculated each year. If you are interested in that information please view this pdf to see a table of different age class densities for 1990 to 2010.

Shellfish Program

The 2-month 2010 fall population assessment, which encompassed 260 oyster bars and 399 samples throughout the Bay and its tributaries, concluded on December 18. At nearly 80 spat (baby oysters) per bushel, the 2010 spatfall is the highest since 1997, and about 5 times the 25-year average of 16.

Eleven of the 53 oyster bars included in this index had their highest or second highest spat counts since 1985. The elevated spatfall was a coast-wide phenomenon, with other mid-Atlantic states also reporting better than average numbers. View chart Equally encouraging was wide distribution of spat throughout the Bay and its tributaries: While the heaviest counts were in the lower Bay's higher salinity areas, where reproduction is typically more successful, a moderate spatfall also occurred in lower salinity areas that generally receive little to no spat sets at all. These included the upper Bay as far north as Pooles Island and the upper reaches of the Chester, Choptank and Patuxent River tributaries. Due to reduced disease pressure, oysters historically have good survivorship in these areas, some of which are now protected sanctuaries under the State's new oyster plan.

Even more encouraging news for the beleaguered oyster is that the frequency and intensity of diseases remains low, based on December's interim report from the Paul S. Sarbanes Cooperative Oxford Lab. Of the two diseases that have devastated populations for decades, Dermo, although still widely distributed, remains below the long-term average for the eighth consecutive year, and MSX appears to again be in retreat after an advance in 2009. View chart.

The survey indicates that oyster survivorship — the percentage of oysters found alive in a sample — was at 88 percent, the highest level since 1985, before diseases put a stranglehold on the population; this is more than double 2002 when record disease levels left only 42 percent of Maryland's population alive. Scientists are hopeful that favorable mortality in recent years may reflect an increase in disease resistance.

Last year, the State of Maryland adopted regulations to implement Governor O'Malley's Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan. The plan increased Maryland's network of oyster sanctuaries — from 9 percent to 24 percent of remaining quality habitat; increased areas open to leasing for oyster aquaculture, and established a $2.2 million financial assistance program for aquaculture interests; and maintained 76 percent of the Bay's remaining quality oyster habitat for a more targeted, sustainable, and scientifically managed public oyster fishery.

Since last fall 26 Marylanders have applied for 35 new leases to grow oysters and the State has received 27 applications for more than $2 million in available funding for start up and expansion of aquaculture businesses. Blue crab disaster funds, championed by Senator Barbara Mikulski, are being used to support this program.

In 2009, the Marylanders Grow Oysters Program expanded from 1 to 11 new tributaries. In 2010 the program expanded again; adding 7 new tributaries, which are Bodkin Creek, Swan Creek, Chester River, Cox Creek, Wye River, Harris Creek, and Miles River. Tributaries are selected each year through an online application process. Each tributary has a local sponsor who leads the program by organizing the growers and distributing cages and oysters. DNR works closely with the local sponsor, providing guidance, advice, cages and oysters. By the end of 2010 there will be 8,000 cages in the 18 participating tributaries. View a map of all the tributaries.

The Fish & Wildlife Health Program (FWHP)

Fish Health Project was formed in the late 1980s in response to fish health and fish kill events in Maryland. Since then the Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding and Wildlife Health Projects were developed and are now established efforts of the FWHP. FWHP staff biologists respond to natural resources die-offs, conduct monitoring/ sampling, develop research programs to address management needs and questions, and provide outreach to the citizens of MD as well as the scientific community.

Fish Health / Mycobacteriosis

The FWHP continued its study of Mycobacteriosis, a bacterial disease that has been present in the striped bass population since at least the mid 1980s. Prevalence of this disease in fish collected from pound nets has increased from 25% in 1998 to 60% in 2008, but has leveled off since 2004.

Data analysis of fish collected in 2010 is underway. This disease is first evident in age-1 striped bass and increases in both male and female fish with age until at least age-6. Lesions caused by this disease are most evident on 4 to 7 year old fish (approximately 18-28"). Mycobacteriosis is not limited to the Chesapeake Bay, although the prevalence of this disease (and external lesions in general) is significantly lower in the migratory spawning stock.

In 2007 the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MD DNR) and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) began a cooperative tagging study to estimate the impact of Mycobacteriosis on the striped bass population in both the upper and lower reaches of the Chesapeake Bay. VIMS initiated this tagging study in 2005 to track the progress of the disease in the Rappahannock River, Virginia. During the spring and fall of 2007 MD DNR and VIMS tagged and released more than 3,000 striped bass with a unique bright green colored tag. The bright green tags are marked with either "VIMS" or "MD DNR" and include a toll free number (1-866-845-3379) to report the fish (Photo 1). If you catch a striped bass with a green MD DNR or VIMS tag hold onto the fish and report it immediately so that fish health biologists can arrange pickup and analyze the skin and internal organs for disease. 4,838 fish have been tagged by MD DNR since 2007 with 293 of these fish being reported back.

Striped Bass with tags.

For best results, it is important that fish are reported promptly after capture, kept intact (DO NOT FILET) and chilled with ice (DO NOT FREEZE). A $20 reward is available for each fish that is picked up by DNR biologists. If you choose not to hold the fish, we ask that you clip the tag off the fish close to the body and call the number listed. A $5 reward will be paid for the return of each green tag and information on when and where the fish was caught. This study will continue through at least 2011.

The bacteria that cause this disease in fish do not pose an unusual danger to fishermen...

Handling and consumption of diseased fish is a continued concern for both anglers and commercial watermen. The bacteria that cause this disease in fish do not pose an unusual danger to fishermen, but it is possible to contract an infection by handling sick fish, particularly if you have open cuts on your hands or if a fish spine penetrates your skin. Therefore, we recommend simple precautions like handling fish with gloves and washing hands frequently. Having a bottle of the waterless anti-bacterial hand wash on hand is a good idea. Although the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has found no association between consumption of diseased fish and human mycobacterial illness, MD DNR recommends that anglers avoid consuming any fish with visible lesions.

Shortnose Sturgeon Health Study

The Fish and Wildlife Health Program continues a health study of the shortnose sturgeon, which began in 2006. Like its larger relative the Atlantic sturgeon, the shortnose sturgeon was once numerous in the Chesapeake Bay, but over fishing and habitat loss have greatly reduced the population size and since 1967 the shortnose sturgeon has been listed as endangered. Little is known about this fish in the Chesapeake Bay and because it is endangered, great care must be taken when handling and examining fish. Traditional techniques to identify the gender and collect samples of the internal organs by sacrificing the fish are not an option.

Therefore the first goal of this study was to adapt the use of laparoscopic surgery, which is effective and minimally invasive, to identify the sex and examine internal organs using captive sturgeon. Chemical analysis of blood samples provides clues on the general health of fish and reproductive hormones can be measured. Tissue samples collected allow biologists to determine the gender of fish, if the fish are mature or not and if any reproductive health problems are present. The second and current phase of this study is to use laparoscopy to examine shortnose sturgeon from the neighboring Delaware River and from fish maintained in captivity as a means of comparison to Chesapeake Bay sturgeon

Sturgeon Surgeon

The population of shortnose sturgeon is much larger in the Delaware River and some of these fish enter the Chesapeake Bay through the C&D canal. In addition to the health studies, a genetic study will be conducted to determine if a distinct Chesapeake Bay population exists or if Delaware River fish populate the Bay. To date, over 200 captive and wild shortnose sturgeon have been examined providing a wealth of new information (Photo 3). The final phase of this study will be to use laparoscopy and other techniques to assess the health of shortnose sturgeon during of a broader survey to determine the abundance and distribution of this species in Chesapeake Bay.

Internal organs are examined using a video laparoscope inserted into the body cavity of fish. Life support and anesthesia are maintained by recirculating water directly over the gills.

MD DNR Fish & Wildlife Health Program – at the Cooperative Oxford Lab

The Fish & Wildlife Health Program (FWHP) - Fish Health Project was formed in the late 1980s in response to fish health and fish kill events in Maryland. Since then the Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding and Wildlife Health Projects were developed and are now established efforts of the FWHP. FWHP staff biologists respond to natural resources die-offs, conduct monitoring/ sampling, develop research programs to address management needs and questions, and provide outreach to the citizens of MD as well as the scientific community.

Wildlife Health, Disease Response, Monitoring and Research

Monitoring and Research Since the formation of the Wildlife Project in 1999 many monitoring and research projects have been developed and continue today e.g., - deer - Chronic Wasting Disease/CWD; bear – trichinella; birds - West Nile Virus WNV and Avian Influenza; and more recently bats - White Nose Syndrome. For each of these projects – FWHP biologists work closely with other state (MDA, MDE, DHMH)and federal agencies (USFWS, USGS, USDA) to gain access to specimens already being handled for population assessment, banding/ tagging, hunt station checks, etc. By doing our work collaboratively the economic saving to the State is maximized. Most of these projects have been discussed in previous reports; therefore WNS will be highlighted here.

The White Nose Syndrome investigation was developed in response to management inquiry into the status of this disease in MD bat populations. In 2005-2006 the FWHP staff began receiving reports of sick bats acting unusually during summer months. During the winter of 2006 New York biologists began receiving reports of dead and dying bats in winter months with white material across the muzzle and wings. A federal and state effort began to materialize with interagency conference calls, intense population surveys, and pathology investigations. A fungus, Geomyces destructans, was identified as a contributing cause with further disease work also conducted. At the Cooperative Oxford Laboratory (COL) our efforts began with examination of rabies negative bats from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH). Physical exam includes species identification, weight, wing cord length and visual exam and scoring for WNS (Figures 2 & 3). Results to date indicate that bats from DHMH are free of WNS. Additionally, bats are necropsied and sampled for toxicology (liver) and viral discovery (liver and lung). A new vessiculo virus was detected through metagenomic processing and was reported at the International Wildlife Disease Association in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina by Dr. Terry Ng (University of South Florida) and Dr. Cindy Driscoll (FWHP veterinarian and program leader). Viruses may contribute to underlying immunocompromise and allow the fungus to kill bats. Caves in Western MD are surveyed each winter and in 2010 WNS was found in12 bats.

Response to die-offs: Wildlife incident reports are received in a variety of ways – through our 24/7 toll-free Natural Resources Police Call Center, the MD DNR/USDA Wildlife Services Call Center, other agencies, from private citizens. All reports are entered into a spreadsheet to track cases spatially and temporally. In 2010 most of our reports concerned birds (57%) and deer (19%) with other species - mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish comprising 24%. Eagles are a high profile species and reported more often than other types of birds with waterfowl as the second most reported bird species. Again this winter pelicans were found in St. Mary's County with frostbite lesions and monitoring continues. Cormorants were found dead and dying at Poplar Island and were determined to have a disease not found in MD prior to our efforts - a paramyxovirus more commonly found in poultry.

In 2009-2010 raccoon rabies cases were on the rise in MD with highest reports in Worcester and Wicomico counties. The DHMH conducts testing on raccoons submitted for human health concerns. Bat rabies also increased during 2009-2010 in the north central counties of our state. In response to this increase and to raise awareness - MD DNR held a Rabies Vector Species Workshop for MD Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitators in Laurel, MD.

FWHP Outreach Efforts

In 2010 our program participated in numerous outreach events and presentations. Some are listed below:

  • Wildlife Disease Association – (presented 2 posters and 2 lectures)
  • International Symposium on Aquatic Animal Health (Chair /coordinated student posters)

National Stranding Conference – Session Chair for Marine Mammal Carcass Disposal Issues and Workshop Coordinator for Disposal Demonstration (Figures 5 & 6)

  • AquaVet and MarVet – 2 international aquatic veterinary training programs
  • Coast Days – provided handout materials on FWHP activities
  • Oxford Day – provided handout material on FWHP activities
  • Fishing Challenge – provided handout material on FWHP activities
  • POSSE – Easton High School Student mentoring for 1) marine mammal 2) WNS projects
  • Partners of the Americas – Brazilian Exchange to introduce Brazilian students and teachers to U.S. Science
  • Journal articles on 1. Avian influenza and 2. Goshawk normal blood values were accepted for publication

New Tools for Event & Disease Reporting

The "Maryland One Health Bulletin" was developed by MDA, MDHMH and MD DNR as a vehicle for notifying Maryland veterinarians about important wild, domestic and zoonotic animal diseases via email. It will be fully implemented in early 2011.

A different notification system was developed by the federal government with the help of MD DNR and other states - to enable citizens to report fish and wildlife morbidity and mortality events. The Wildlife Health Event Reporter(WHER) website is up and running as of November (http://www.whmn.org/wher/).

Sturgeon

Maryland Artificial Reef Program

The MDDNR Artificial Reef Program, in partnership with the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative (MARI) and the Ocean City Reef Foundation (OCRF), is working to enhance finfish and shellfish habitat in Maryland's tidal bays, tributaries, and ocean waters. The Maryland Artificial Reef Committee (ARC) is an appointed group which advises the Department and the Director of the Fisheries Service on artificial reef (AR) projects. Following the structure of other Atlantic State Artificial Reef Programs, this year in review report summarizes reef pFrogram efforts in three major areas: reef site development and construction, monitoring, and outreach with the local fishing community. Reef Site Development and Construction.

Reef Site Construction

MARI continued planning for a shallow water reef at the Down's Park Fishing pier in Northern Anne Arundel County. MARI is working with a group of students and the head of the science department at Chesapeake Bay Middle School to build a reef composed of reef balls and sea clam shell around the outer portion of the existing public fishing pier. After the permitting process is complete, we hope to begin reef ball construction in April, and deploys the structures in late May or early June, 2011.

MARI is also developing new reef sites in the mainstem Chesapeake Bay off Calvert Cliffs, Taylor Island (extension of existing site), upper Tangier Sound, and Hooper Island Straits. Maryland Geological Survey (MGS) has conducted side-scan bottom surveys of these areas, and MDDNR will submit a permit package to MDE and BPW for these four sites.

OCRF continued small deployments of reef material at Maryland's Ocean reef sites. MARI and OCRF are planning to obtain retired vessels, and low profile material, such as concrete, rubble, dredged boulders, and quarry rock for future ocean reef projects.

The tri-state (NJ, DE, MD) project to deploy the retired naval vessel RADFORD at the Del-Jersey-Land Reef Site continued to move forward. The Navy transferred the title of the vessel to DE, and MARI worked on fundraising efforts to support the project. The new target date for sinking of the vessel is in early April, 2011

Monitoring

MARI continued physical and biological monitoring of Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean Reef sites in 2010. MDDNR and MARI worked under an MOU with Maryland Geological Survey to conduct side-scan surveys of Bay and Ocean reef sites.

Hook-and-line fishing surveys and diving operations were coordinated with the Maryland Charter Boat Association and also with the Ocean City party boat industry. Preliminary results indicate high densities of black sea bass, bluefish, striped bass, and other finfish species at the reef sites. Divers and biologists were also encouraged by observations of extensive colonies of benthic organisms, marine invertebrates, and shellfish at bay and ocean reef sites.

Outreach

MDDNR AR program staff and MARI volunteers continued outreach work at fishing club meetings, school group meetings, fishing expos, boat shows, and oyster project open houses. The primary goal of the outreach effort was to inform the fishing and diving community about the MARI program, and also to inform the public on how they can contribute to reef building and monitoring efforts.

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