- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2003

Every fishing, hunting, or conservation club in the country at one time or another does something worthwhile that is ignored by the public because of a lack of publicity. Blame the organization’s secretary for not getting the word out, or newspaper and TV reporters who all too often are busy with “more important” things.

For example, Trout Unlimited and Izaak Walton League chapters clean up streams and do their best to educate people about the importance of leaving sparkling, fish-rich waters for generations yet to come. Hunters and NRA target shooters often join hands to teach firearms safety classes, encourage lower bag limits, even ask for closed seasons should a wildlife species experience problems. We salute all of them.

However, what the Southern Maryland division of the Coastal Conservation Association has done to bring back greatly abused populations of yellow perch is simply astounding. The CCA Southern Maryland, as it’s known, was formed in 1998, dedicating itself to the conservation and improvement of marine resources in Southern Maryland waters.

As member Bob Rice recalls, “From the outset, our chapter conducted stream surveys for the Department of Natural Resources, did bank trap surveys, and with a state permit has conducted seine net samplings throughout the streams in Southern Maryland.”

Rice, along with many of his fellow members, for decades has been an avid yellow perch angler, but it didn’t require an advanced degree in fisheries science to realize that these harbingers of spring were in a serious population decline. Various factors, including commercial overfishing, low pH content in the water, pollution, siltation and massive blockages in the headwaters of priceless spawning streams contributed to the downward spiral.

But in 1999, the CCA Southern Maryland met Dr. George Krantz, a DNR fisheries biologist who had some ideas to cure the declining yellow perch fishery.

The CCAers soon were checking out yellow perch spawning waters, seining streams where perch were still being caught by sport anglers, noting the various supplies and presence of the fish, identifying the best and worst perch areas and the numbers of perch roe strands that could be found. Because of their uniqueness and high visibility, the ribbon-like perch eggs can be distinguished easily from other fish roe.

After the DNR granted it authority to do so, the Southern Marylanders decided to get really serious with an ambitious yellow perch restoration project, spearheaded by chapter member Ken Hastings.

“In an effort to restore yellow perch in those streams where they had traditionally been present and had spawned, but no longer do so, the restoration project was begun with the collection of egg strands at Allen’s Fresh [the headwaters of the Wicomico River in Charles County] in March 2001,” Rice said. “The essence of the program involved yellow perch egg collection, taking them to the DNR’s Manning Hatchery in Cedarville for incubation and chemical marking with a harmless trace chemical. The hatched larvae are then placed into a pond to grow to approximately 1-inch-long fry. In our first year of doing this, we leased a farm pond near Dentsville for this purpose, but in both subsequent years the fry was placed in Mirant’s Pond at the Chalk Point Power Plant [Charles County], and in some tanks at the Academy of Natural Science’s Estuarine Research Center in Calvert County.

“The inch-long fry is then carefully seined with a fine mesh net and transported to a stream release site. An important aspect of releasing young fry is that they must of just the right size and age to have a good chance to survive on their own when released, yet young enough to have their new home waters successfully imprinted on them, to draw them back when they return from the sea to spawn in later years, much the way salmon do.”

Rice pointed out that the help they’ve received from Dave Sien at the Manning Hatchery, from the DNR Fisheries headquarters in Annapolis, from the Chalk Point Environmental Analyst, Paul Willenborg, and from their own chapter members, especially Hastings, who heads the restoration effort, has been invaluable. “Actually, it’s not fair to name just a few people,” said Rice, “because everybody is pitching in to help.”

The results thus far: During 2002, yellow perch fry was released in Calvert County’s St. Leonard’s Creek; fry was also released also in McIntosh Run in Leonardtown (St. Mary’s County) where chapter members estimate that 15,000 fry (of an original 80,000 larvae that survived) were let go. This year, 72,000 fry were again released into McIntosh Run. Very little perch activity had previously been reported in this creek.

CCA volunteers also are observing DNR resource assessment surveys in the popular Wicomico River and the Nanjemoy Creek. While there was strong spawning in the Wicomico at Allen’s Fresh this year, few newly hatched perch were seen afterward. That’s not good news, but continued studies are under way and the CCA Southern Maryland people aren’t giving up. Not by a long shot.

If you’re interested in this CCA chapter’s work, why not attend one of its meetings? Call Don Gardiner, 301/645-3323, for details. The public is always welcome.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report every Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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