Hugo Gemignani's idea just might have worked. Yellow perch are back in the Magothy River after nearly a decade.
Five years ago, Gemignani, a biology professor at Anne Arundel Community College, tried placing fertilized yellow perch eggs in the headwaters of the river, near the Catherine Avenue bridge.
Last fall, he caught several yellow perch in the river. This spring, a former student found perch egg cases, a sure sign that the fishhave matured there.
"Since it takes three years for perch to mature, it could be these are from the original fish," he said this week.
The state Department of Natural Resources closed the Magothy and other rivers in Anne Arundel to yellow perch fishing in 1983 because the fish were disappearing, said Paul Massicott, director of Tidewater Administration.
The species was dying partly because of overfishing and partly because of sedimentation from development filling in the river, he said. Efforts to restock those rivers with fish from other rivers met with little success, because perch carry genetic markers from the river where they were spawned and would try to return there.
"The adults made a bee-line out of the rivers they were transplanted into, into the open bay and back to the rivers they were taken from," Massicott recalled.
So Gemignani figured he could short-circuit the genetic marking by seeing that the eggs were fertilized in Magothy River water.
With financial backing from the Magothy River Association and the Maryland Saltwater Fishermen, he and a crew of students loaded 50-gallon tanks full of water from the Magothy onto trucks and drove to the Sassafras, where they used seine nets to capturethe fish.
They mixed eggs from the females with sperm from the males in the tanks and waited. Within a half-hour, they knew the eggs were fertilized -- they grow quickly from 1 millimeter to 7 or 8 millimeters when they're fertilized, Gemignani explained -- and began the trip back to Pasadena, where they placed the eggs in boxes floating in the river to protect them.
The first year, vandals broke up all but two of the boxes, Gemignani said. "So we were never sure how manyeggs actually spawned."
They tried again in 1989 and 1991, releasing 5 million to 8 million eggs during those seasons.
"And this year, we found egg masses," recounted Lynn Middleton, a Towson State University graduate student in biology helping with the project.
Middleton, a former student of Gemignani's, searched the headwaters of the Magothy two and three times a week from late February through early March for the unmistakable sign of yellow perch egg pouches.
Thefish "let out long, gelatinous, accordion-style eggs," she explained. "You can see them from the bank once you know what you're looking for."
She has taken the egg cases from the Magothy to compare theirDNA, the genetic fingerprints, as part of her master's degree thesis.
"That way, we can tell if the fish are ours," she said.
"And if they are, that will prove we're right," added Gemignani. "It will save thousands and thousands of dollars because you can eliminate hatcheries and the cost of feeding. And we'll have a game fish again."
The project has cost between $800 and $1,000 a year, said Michael Christianson, Magothy River Association president.