Sunken Christmas trees create Md. fish habitats

Underwater brush piles put in lakes, waterways

December 27, 2005|By JACQUELINE RUTTIMANN | JACQUELINE RUTTIMANN,CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

After the halls have been undecked for the holidays, some Christmas trees in Maryland end up decorating the bottom of the state's lakes and waterways to create habitat for fish.

Maryland lacks natural lakes, and the beds of its manmade lakes are bare, leaving small fish exposed to predators.

"It looks like a desert down there," said Alan Klotz, western regional fisheries manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, describing the Savage River Reservoir in Garrett County.

To make the lakes more hospitable, Christmas trees are anchored in cement or cinder block, bundled in clusters and tossed into the water.

Trees also can be placed on a frozen lake and left to sink to the bottom with the spring thaw.

The trees degrade rapidly, but each winter brings a new underwater forest.

"It's making use of a material that is readily available and at no cost," said Ed Enamite, a fish biologist with the Department of Natural Resources, adding that the creation of these underwater brush piles are "more important in bodies of water that function as bathtubs," or artificially created lakes lacking tributaries.

The trees offer multiple benefits. Most important, they create shelter and habitat for small fish, which in turn attract larger fish to a lake.

There also are other attractions for the larger fish.

Scott Sewell, conservation director for the Maryland Bass Federation, said bass in particular are structure-oriented creatures.

"If you put a bass in the pool with no markings in the pool and throw in a quarter and come in a little while, the bass will be sitting by the quarter," Sewell said.

He said he has sunk about 60 trees over the past seven years.

Christmas trees also provide a growing surface for various types of algae and small microscopic plant life, which are eaten by small fish.

In turn, the shelter that is provided to the smaller fish helps keep their population and their larger predators' population in balance.

"It provides benefits down the food chain as well," said Don Cosden, southern regional fisheries manager for the DNR.

Local fishermen benefit from this practice in that fish are typically concentrated around these structures.

"Every time we do a survey at these Christmas tree reefs, we always find fish over them," said Rick Schaefer, the DNR's eastern regional fisheries manager.

Klotz and Sewell said fishermen can buy maps for Garrett County's Deep Creek Lake that indicate where the trees have been dropped.

Sewell, a fisherman, said that he and fellow anglers often secretly drop trees before fishing competitions in the hopes of landing a large fish.

While he's never caught "the big one" this way, Sewell said, "I knew people who've won tournaments for brush piles they've created."

Jacqueline Ruttimann writes for Capital News Service.

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