- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 2, 2003

Fish are a vital commodity in Maryland. The state's many bodies of water, large and small, offer abundant habitat to a bouillabaisse of indigenous species, including bass, sunfish and catfish.

Someone has to keep track of all these fish, and the folks at the Freshwater Fisheries Division of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources have that job.

Freshwater Fisheries personnel focus on all aspects of fisheries management and research. They keep the supply of fish in step with declining populations, raising the gilled and finned creatures at a handful of hatcheries around the state to restore populations in the wild as well as to restock the waters for recreation.

The Cedarville Fish Hatchery, a warm-water rearing facility, is off-limits to the public, but the visitors center is open two days a week to educate people about the fish of Maryland. The center is small and low-tech just right for a family visit to learn about fish-stocking activities and fish identification.

Hatchery populations might be based upon needs across the state, says natural resources biologist Mary Groves, on duty at the visitors center. Cedarville concentrates on largemouth bass and sunfish but raises other species as well, including smallmouth bass, golden shiner, walleye, channel catfish and tiger musky.

"When the striped-bass population declined, we raised those. Now we've switched gears to shad," she explains. "In Southern Maryland, we have a warmer water supply, so we have a static-pond system here, which means the water isn't flowing through it. The ponds are filled up in the springtime, and then they stay that way. In a static-pond system, algae starts to grow, so you can't really see the fish, anyway."

So the visitors center delivers, offering a live-fish display that includes eight 250-gallon aquariums filled with Maryland's fish species. It includes eight or so snakeheads the last remaining individuals from the infamous school that plagued a Maryland pond last fall.

A 1,000-gallon tank holds the center's larger specimens striped bass, largemouth bass and longnose gar each measuring 24 inches or so. Trout rainbow and brown dart around a 180-gallon tank equipped with a special refrigeration unit to keep the water at a chilly 60 or 62 degrees.

In another enclosure, seven turtles, including an endangered map turtle, sun themselves on a brick beneath a full-spectrum-bulb spotlight. All are indigenous to the state save one a California pond turtle that's 15 or 16 years old.

One tank holds a snapping turtle. Snappers are the one type of turtle everyone's warned to avoid, Ms. Groves says, because when they bite, they don't like to let go.

The center serves as a living library for police cadets with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, who come in to learn about the fish they must be able to recognize to enforce the state's environmental laws. Students use the center's information as resource for science projects. Sportsmen come in to learn about fishing regulations.

However, most who visit "are people who love fish," Ms. Groves says. "They want to be able to see them. This place gets kids excited."

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