Wednesday, May 22, 2024

What you'll find if you go fishing in Boston Harbor

Boston Harbor, home to one of the most beautiful waterfronts and islands, is also a bustling ecosystem supporting diverse fish species. Each different fish species plays a crucial role in supporting the marine environment of Boston Harbor during the changing seasons. Among the notable fishes include: Flounder, Herring, and Striped Bass. Each of these unique fish species contributes to the ecological balance in distinct ways!

As a Junior Program Assistant, I had the opportunity to explore the various islands and ecosystems, home to these wonderful fish species. My team at Camp Harbor View had a rare encounter with a flounder! While we were on the dock assisting youth in the fishing club, we spotted the flounder swimming near and around the docks. This was a rare encounter because we usually only see flounder and the different fish species on our fishing trips where we’re further away from land. One of my team members pointed out the flounder to us when he noticed their brown/olive color and their long dorsal fins sticking out of the water. Although we weren’t able to catch it, it was interesting for us to be reminded that there was a large abundance of marine species in Boston Harbor. Seeing that flounder with our own eyes, sparked a curiosity about the other species of fish that can be spotted in the Boston Harbor.

Starting with the flounder: they are most known for their distinct flat bodies and remarkable camouflage abilities. Flounder can be found in Boston Harbor throughout the entire year. However, they are more abundant during the warmer months, particularly in late spring and summer.  Due to the flounder’s remarkable camouflage abilities, they easily blend into sandy or muddy surroundings. This is why they’re sometimes referred to as “chameleons of the sea”, as they can change their coloring to match where they live. Additionally, Flounders are considered bottom-dwelling fish because they spend most of their lives resting on the ocean floor to protect themselves from predators. In Boston Harbor, they can be found in areas with high concentrations of sandy or muddy bottoms. These areas can include around the Boston Harbor Islands or near the harbor mouth.

Next up is the small but mighty silver-colored fish called the herring! Herring are sleek small fish that can range in size from 4 to 18 inches long. However, their size is largely dependent on the type of species. Herring are silvery fish with blue and green colored upper bodies. Their scales are incredibly shiny and reflective which assist them in blending into their environment and protecting themselves against predators. A unique ability of herring is their highly migratory behavior. Herring commonly form schools, which are large groups of fish that swim together in a coordinated manner to offer safety. These schools of herring are huge in number, often containing thousands of herrings moving together in completely synchronized patterns. 

Photo courtesy of WHOI

Another unique aspect of a herring’s life cycle is known as the “herring run”. The herring run refers to an annual migration of herring from ocean to freshwater rivers and streams. This event commonly occurs in the spring, where large schools of herring swim upstream in order to lay their eggs in shallow rivers. The primary herring species found in Boston Harbor's herring run are the alewife and blueback herring, known together as river herring. The Boston Harbor herring run begins in early spring around late March to early April and continues all through may. Herring play an important role in the Boston Harbor ecosystem as they serve as prey for various species including larger fish and seabirds. Within Boston Harbor, herring can be found in cooler saline waters, typically near the mouth of the harbor. Boston Harbor provides a fantastic habitat for its fish, including the herring, with its nutrient-rich waters and the diverse ecosystem of fish and other marine species!

Aleena catches a striped bass!

Last but not least is the stunning Striped Bass, a fish with a sleek, silver body and striking black stripes running from gill to tail! Striped Bass are often regarded as one of the larger species of fish found in Boston Harbor as they can grow up to 5 feet in length! Boston Harbor provides the perfect habitat for striped bass because the environmental, water, and temperature conditions align with the preferences of the striped bass. Additionally, Boston Harbor is rich in food sources and nutrients to allow for the striped bass to thrive. These food sources include baitfish, and the abundance of herring, mackerel, and crabs. Similarly to flounder and herring, striped bass are anadromous. This means that they migrate from saltwater to freshwater to spawn. Afterwards, they typically move downstream to saltwater environments to take care of their offspring. In the spring months of March, April, and May mark their spawning season where striped bass migrate from their coastal habitats to freshwater rivers to spawn. In the summer months of June, July, and August, striped bass move back to coastal waters and they begin to arrive in Boston Harbor as the water and temperature warms up.  During these summer months, the striped bass are abundant in Boston Harbor!

We hope to see you out on the water this summer for our fishing trips, and trips out to the islands. Save the Harbor's youth staff will be out there ready to teach you more about what lives in Boston Harbor!

No comments: