Monday, April 09, 2007

The Thames River is Crammed With Fish

There was another account, this one in Saturday’s Times, of just how important the Thames River is as a striped bass habitat. Back on March 1, I linked to Narragansett Baykeeper John Torgan’s blog, where he reprinted an account of a fisherman who was conducting a mark-recapture study of stripers in the Thames. The fisherman, Al Anderson, estimated that 30,000 to 40,000 striped bass spend the winter in the Thames.

John Waldman, a fisheries biologist at Queens College, was on the river at the same time, with a student, Mike Bednarski. In January Bednarski had found that the school of stripers stretched for five miles. A couple of months later, he and Waldman went back for another look. Waldman wrote:

After idling through the fishing fleet, we ran five miles downriver among ice sheets — spooking two bald eagles off a floe — to test temperatures and salinities in the same reach of river where Bednarski had located the southern end of a great striper school in early January, before the freeze began. The sonar fish finder did not mark any striped bass at this destination, so we headed back to Norwich Harbor to sample the fishing. There, the fish finder showed a solid mass of stripers under the boat, but we caught only one in half an hour.

Nearby, three men were gleefully landing one fish after another. Asked what they were doing right, one said that, because most of the stripers were swimming at a depth of about 20 feet, they were dropping their lures to 17 feet and gently teasing the fish upward.

Waldman goes on to report:

the abundance of striped bass in this stretch of the river was staggering. … The five-mile long body of stripers seen in December had contracted to become a dense aggregation at the head of the estuary. The surface waters were fresh and frigid, carrying ice chunks from the two rivers — the Yantic and Shetucket — that feed the main stem Thames. But beneath this inhospitable layer was a tongue of the sea — 42-degree, full-strength salt water, slightly warmer than what we measured downriver, and phenomenally attractive to a not insignificant portion of the Atlantic coast migratory striped bass stock.

Waldman knows his stuff. He worked for a long time as a biologist for the Hudson River Foundation. Two springs ago, he passed along this culinary tidbit. Saturday’s Times piece, here, is a good read.

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