Research examines the health of yellow perch as an indicator of the health of the Chesapeake Bay, urbanization, and even changing weather patterns

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University of Maryland College of Agriculture & Natural Resources — by Samantha Watters — October 24, 2019

"With a new grant from the Maryland Sea Grant program, Alexander MacLeod, a doctoral student in the department of Environmental Science & Technology (ENST), has earned another piece of funding to address a largely unexplored phenomenon in the rivers that feed into the Chesapeake Bay - struggling yellow perch populations. As a more in depth investigation of initial studies conducted through the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), MacLeod is leading the collaboration and pooling resources together across each of these agencies among other supporters to create his own doctoral research program to examine why yellow perch reproduction is in decline and egg hatch rates are as low as 10%. Known as the harbingers of spring, these fish are not only an important commercial and recreational fishery in the Bay, but act as an indicator of overall Bay and ecosystem health.

“As far as the Chesapeake Bay is concerned, yellow perch are a relatively understudied species,” says MacLeod. “When I was considering a PhD, I decided that if I can study this phenomenon, I’d do the PhD because it is a real world problem that has been largely ignored, and it is truly rare for fish populations to be in precipitous decline even after fishing pressure was eliminated. This is a far more complex challenge than overfishing, and it is worth rising to the occasion. Yellow perch aren’t crabs or oysters, or even the rockfish that garner so much attention in the Bay, and yet the consistent environmental and reproductive challenges these populations have been facing for decades may be indicative of serious issues for those iconic Bay fisheries in the future.”

Recreational fishing was closed for twenty years between 1989 and 2009 in many rivers of the Bay, primarily on the Western Shore, to try to revitalize the yellow perch population. The rockfish fishery in the Bay was completely closed for five years in 1985, resulting in a major recovery. However, with yellow perch, there was no change to the population when fishing was limited, so recreational fishing was reopened in 2010."


Read the full article at University of Maryland College of Agriculture & Natural Resources


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