Studying the waters for yellow perch's sake

ON THE OUTDOORS

April 03, 2005|By CANDUS THOMSON

IF APRIL is the cruelest month, March has to be the nasty stepchild.

Rain, runoff and raw temperatures make the outdoors a downright hostile place, and no amount of Gore-Tex and fleece can hide the ugly truth.

So it's quite amazing to watch two dozen volunteers give up their Saturday mornings, forsaking all things warm and fuzzy, to pick their way through the muck along the Severn River and its tributaries.

Armed with buckets and coolers and fancy-looking meters, these hardy souls are trying to help the state determine if the river still has what it takes to raise and sustain yellow perch.

The volunteers, recruited by Jim Gracie of Trout Unlimited, surveyed the river to see how conditions stack up against what Department of Natural Resources biologists found 30 years ago. The then-and-now comparison is helpful to scientists piecing together what went wrong and how to fix it.

Lots of Anne Arundel County old-timers can tell you about the great yellow perch runs of spring. The Severn and its tributaries were teeming with fish heading for their spawning waters. Anglers filled buckets, and families had fish fries.

"I used to fish these little streams, and the fish were just stacked in there," recalled Jeff Duerr, one of the volunteers.

That's changed - and how. Conditions are so precarious that the state does not allow anglers to keep yellow perch caught in the Severn, Magothy, Patapsco, Naticoke, West or South rivers.

Older fish seem to do OK, but larvae and juveniles have a tough time. Out of thousands of eggs laid by a single yellow perch, only one or two survive. Low oxygen levels that occur in May and stay until fall make it hard for the tiny fish to survive to their second birthdays.

"We can only do so much to compensate for the environment with seasons and bag limits. So we're trying to take an ecosystem-based approach to the habitat," said Jim Uphoff, the project manager for the Department of Natural Resources.

Of course, to an untrained eye, it's easy to see how much waterfront development has filled the banks of the Severn. And with development comes runoff and erosion and other things hostile to critters.

But if you're going to convince local officials to alter planning and zoning decisions that have property tax revenue implications, you'd better have the goods.

That's where the field work of the biologists and these volunteers comes in handy.

Conditions on the Severn are "marginal," said Howard King, the head of DNR fisheries service. "But we're willing to invest in this project because Anne Arundel has an aggressive water quality management plan," he said.

The volunteers walked Severn tributaries to assess habitat and blockages that inhibit spawning runs. Then they collected eggs and larvae for study. They are wrapping things up by taking measurements for dissolved oxygen and water levels.

"It's a way to get up on a Saturday morning and feel like you're doing something for the Chesapeake Bay," said Mike Raum, a biochemist from Hillsmere.

Yellow perch studies also are being conducted on the Bush River, north of Aberdeen Proving Ground, and Mattawoman Creek in Charles County. DNR expects to have the results of the tests this fall.

"We want to be able to go into jurisdictions with information and offer advice on watershed planning and the effect of poor planning on aquatic resources," said King.

So the volunteers are feeling pretty good about their work. And DNR is feeling pretty good that they're feeling good.

"I'm just so amazed," said Margaret McGinty, a DNR fisheries biologist. "They're so enthusiastic, so dedicated, so thorough, I'm sure what we're getting is valuable."

Of course, these folks aren't volunteering to get a pat on the back. But if you're listening, Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens, why don't you dust off those certificates of appreciation?

Open, sesame

There's construction, and then there's dam construction.

The latter has kept weekday anglers, cyclists and walkers from using a huge stretch of Loch Raven Drive for the past 2 1/2 years.

Baltimore Department of Public Works closed the road to ensure construction trucks didn't accidentally flatten nature lovers. But the safety precautions were a pain in the neck.

The department on Friday opened Loch Raven Drive between Providence Road and Dulaney Valley Road, from dawn to dusk.

The lower portion of Loch Raven, from Cromwell Bridge Road to Providence Road, will remain closed until this fall, when construction at the dam is expected to be complete.

Speaking of the reservoir, Harry Metz at the fishing center, says the crappie and panfish are biting, but "it's still cold."

The center is open everyday, from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Rowboats rent for $14 a day, motorboats go for $25, and bass boats are $50. Canoe rentals start in May.

The phone number is 410-887-7692.

Just kidding

I don't cotton to their philosophy, but I have to admit PETA folks have a better sense of humor than the National Rifle Association.

A press release arrived last week from those zany, anti-hunting dudes and dudettes in Virginia, with this eye-catching headline: "New study links hunting to small penis size."

The truncated release alerts outdoors writers to a study by the "Diminutive Male Genitalia Disorder Research Organization" that found a gene abnormality in male-type hunters that caused an, um, shortage in certain physical attributes.

Before I could make a joke about the study giving new meaning to the term, "check station," I looked at the release date - April 1 - and contact person - Justin Jest.

I laughed so hard, I almost choked on my hamburger.

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