Approximately 350 species of fish live in the Chesapeake Bay. Some fish are year-round residents, while others swim into the Bay from the ocean to feed, reproduce or find shelter. Each of the Bay’s fish has a distinct place in the food web. For example, some species, such as menhaden, are a vital link between the lower food web and higher-level predators, such as striped bass. Many fish species in the Bay have high commercial or recreational value and contribute significantly to the Bay economy.
Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)
Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) are part of the trout and salmon (Salmonid) family and are the only trout native to the majority of the eastern United States. Other names for the species include brookie, native trout, natives or speckled trout. The brook trout is a brilliantly colored fish that lives in clear, cold freshwater streams and rivers in undeveloped areas throughout the watershed. They are typically found in stream habitats that have permanent cool or coldwater spring sources. Brook trout survive in only the coldest and cleanest water, as they are sensitive to changes in water temperature and water quality. Ideal brook trout streams are protected by a closed canopy forest cover that shades the stream and maintains a cold water temperature. Brook trout are a popular game fish and many anglers practice catch and release tactics to preserve populations.
Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis)
Striped bass (Morone saxatilis), also known as the rockfish or striper, is a large predatory fish with dark stripes running across its metallic sides. It lives throughout the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries year-round and is a key predator in the Bay food web, feeding primarily on small fish and invertebrates like menhaden, bay anchovies, and crustaceans. Striped bass have been one of the most sought-after commercial and recreational fish in the Bay since colonial times. Its size, fighting ability and delicious taste make striped bass one of the top sport fish in the Bay and on local restaurant menus. After bouncing back from a severe decline in the 1970s and 1980s, the striped bass population is now at its highest level in decades. In 1995, the population had increased to the point where striped bass was considered restored, and catches have remained stable since. However, scientists are uncertain about the health of the species because of a high prevalence of a disease called mycobacteriosis and possible lack of prey. Prey availability is an important factor in striped bass abundance and growth and some believe that conservative management of striped bass, in combination with harvest of principal prey species, may be leading to a lack of food and slower growth rates in striped bass.
American Shad (Alosa sapidissima)
The American shad (Alosa sapidissima) is a thin river herring with a metallic body and dark spots on its shoulder. It is the most well-known of the Bay’s shad and river herring. The species is anadromous, which means it lives in the ocean and returns to spawn in freshwater rivers and streams, including those in the watershed. Shad form an important link in the food web between the planktonic community and predatory fish and birds like striped bass and ospreys.
American shad once supported the most valuable finfish fishery in the Bay, but shad populations in the Bay and along the Atlantic coast have collapsed due to pollution, historic overfishing and dams that block access to the fish’s freshwater spawning grounds. The commercial fishery for American shad has been closed throughout most of the Bay region since the mid-1990s. Removing dams and installing fish passageways is a critical component of shad restoration. When dams and other obstructions are removed, shad can reach their historic spawning grounds. To date, Chesapeake Bay Program partners have reopened more than 2,000 miles of streams and rivers to migratory fish. However, dams and other obstructions still block hundreds of miles of historic shad spawning areas.