Black Drum, Visitors Center, Assateague Island National Park Seashore (Worcester County), Maryland, May 2015. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.
Maryland also maintains a rich and diverse supply of aquatic life in nature. From the saline mouth of the Chesapeake Bay to the fresh water Inner Harbor of Baltimore, streams, lakes, and the Bay provide for an incredibly diverse indigenous population.
National Aquarium in Baltimore, Pier III, Baltimore Inner Harbor, 501 East Pratt St., Baltimore, Maryland, December 2007. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.
The Department of Natural Resources co-sponsors a free year-round tournament called the Maryland Fishing Challenge. One of several contests in the Challenge is to catch "Diamond Jim," a striped bass released into the Chesapeake Bay (each June) that is tagged for a prize of $10,000.
Each summer, Ocean City hosts the White Marlin Open, a big-game tournament in which teams from around the world compete for $2 million or more. The next tournament will be held in August 3-7, 2015.
Aquafarms are another example of Maryland's aquatic ties. A growing number of sites throughout the State export farm-raised sea life, including eels, beside more traditional fish.
Maryland's waterways also are home to a large number of invertebrates (animals without backbones), including crustaceans and molluscs, as well as other creatures that do not fall under any category. These include the Boring Sponge, Common Sea Star, Ghost Anemone, Jellyfish, Sea Cucumber, Sea Squirt, and Whip Coral.
To prevent an adverse impact on an aquatic ecosystem or on the productivity of State waters, the importation, possession, or introduction of nonnative aquatic organisms is prohibited in Maryland (Code Natural Resources Article, sec. 4-205.1). Nonetheless, in recent years, native Maryland water-life has come under attack from a number of sources, including the Northern Snakehead, a predator from Africa and Asia, and Didymo, a microscopic algae that forms thick mats. The Potomac Snakehead Tournament is an annual event that awards cash for the heaviest total weight of Snakeheads caught, as well as the heaviest single Blue Catfish, caught by bow or rod.
Another threat to indigenous marine life are fish kills. This term applies to large masses of fish found dead in the water, which can result from a number of causes. In some cases it occurs naturally, as when a school of fish gets stranded on land at ebb tide. Increasingly frequent, however, are dead zones, areas unable to support marine life due to an unnaturally low oxygen content in the water. Most often caused by sewage or excessive algae, these zones appear near coasts or in small bodies of water. In 2007, some 138 fish kills were reported in Maryland waters. The largest, with approximately 50,000 dead fish, was February 19, in Charles County.
Bass, Largemouth (Micropterus salmoidess)
Largemouth Bass have green bodies with silver undersides and a dark stripe. They have a lower jaw which stretches past the back of the eye. They can grow up to 30 inches in length. They eat insects, fish, crustaceans, reptiles, as well as small water birds and mammals. They live in fresh and brackish waters, particularly in slow, clear rivers. The males build the nests and guard the eggs. The Largemouth Bass is an introduced species in Maryland and is the most popular sport fish in the country.
Bass, Smallmouth (Micropterus dolomieu)
Smallmouth Bass are brown or bronze with dark vertical bars and red eyes. Depending on where they live, they can be either torpedo-shaped or oval-shaped. Their upper jaw stretches to the middle of the eye. They can be harvested at 12 inches in length. They eat zooplankton, insects, crayfish, and small fish. Smallmouth Bass live in the cool, clear water of stream and lakes and can tolerate slow or fast currents. The males build the nests and guard the eggs. The Smallmouth Bass is an introduced species. Also known as Bareback Bass and Bronzeback.
Bass, Striped (Morone saxatilis)
Striped Bass are silver fish with seven or eight dark stripes between the gills and tail and separated dorsal fins. Striped Bass can grow up to 60 inches in length. They eat insects, crustaceans, and small fish. They live in coastal areas and in bays, but spawn in rivers and migrate to warmer waters during winter months. There are landlocked Striped Bass populations in several Maryland reservoirs, including Piney Run and Rocky Gorge. The Striped Bass is Maryland's most important commercial fish. Also known as Rockfish and Striper.
The Striped Bass is Maryland's State Fish.
Bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix)
Bluefish are gray blue-green with silver-white lower sides, white bellies, and wide, forked tails. Their lower jaw extends past the upper jaw and they have sharp, pointed teeth. Bluefish can grow up to 40 inches in length. They live in schools in the oceans and in bays, migrating to warmer waters during winter months. Called the "marine piranha," Bluefish attack and destroy schools of fish, including menhaden and anchovies, sometimes chasing them into shallow water and churning the water up in what is called a "bluefish blitz." They are known to bite humans who venture too close while they are feeding. Also known as Snapper and Skipjack.
Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus)
Bluegills are sunfish. They are green with yellow bellies and oval-shaped bodies. Their name comes from the blue markings on their lower jaws and gill covers. Bluegills have dark patches at the edge of the gills and at the base of the dorsal fin. They have 5-9 dark vertical bands on their sides. They can grow up to 12 inches in length. They eat insects, snails, and small fish. Bluegills live in lakes and ponds as well as streams with slow currents. The males build the nests and guard the eggs. Also known as Sunnies.
Striped Burrfish, Visitors Center, Assateague Island National Park Seashore (Worcester County), Maryland, May 2015. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.
Carp, Grass (Ctenopharyngodon idella)
Grass Carp are olive with brown-yellow sides and white bellies. They have long, torpedo-shaped bodies and large, outlined scales. They can grow up to 54 inches in length, but are usually around 24-40 inches in length. They primarily eat aquatic plants, but will also eat insects. Grass Carp live in freshwater, including lakes, rivers, and areas with slow-moving or standing water. The Grass Carp is an invasive species. Also known as White Amur.
Catfish. Accokeek, Maryland, May 2011. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.
< Catfish, Channel (Ictalurus punctatus)
Channel Catfish are gray with white on the sides and belly and spots that disappear as they age. They have long, thin, scaleless bodies, deeply-forked tail, and four pairs of long barbels around the mouth. Channel Catfish have keen senses of taste and smell. Their average length is around 16 inches. They eat insects, frogs, and fish. Channel Catfish live in fresh water, preferably in deep pools around solid natural structures that can be used for cover. The Channel Catfish is an introduced species. Also known as Forked Tail, River Cat, and Spotted Cat.
Catfish, Flathead (Pylodictis olivaris)
Flathead Catfish are brown, olive, or yellow and mottled with white bellies. They have a wide, flat head with a protruding lower jaw and four pairs of barbels on the chin. Their square tail fin is slightly notched and there is a white patch on the upper lobe. They can grow up to 61 inches in length. They eat insects, fish, and crustaceans. Flathead Catfish live in freshwater, such as lakes and rivers, usually in areas with slower currents. The Flathead Catfish is an invasive species. Also known as Bashaw, Motley, Shovelhead Cat, and Yellow Cat.
Catfish, White (Ictaluarus catus)
White Catfish are blue-gray with white bellies. They have stout, scaleless bodies, a forked tail, and a broad head. White Catfish have four pairs of barbels, with the chin pair colored white. They can grow up to 13 inches in length. They eat insects and fish, primarily feeding at night. White Catfish live in fresh and brackish waters, including lakes, streams, and backwaters. Also known as Cat and Mudcat.
Croaker, Atlantic (Micropogonias undulatus)
Atlantic Croakers are silver-pink with a silver or white belly, but they turn gold during the spawning season. They have long bodies, brown-brass spots that form bands, and 3-5 pairs of small chin barbels. Their dorsal fin is notched and their caudal fin is pointed. Atlantic Croakers can grow up to 24 inches in length. They eat worms, small fish, and crustaceans. They live on the muddy or sandy bottoms of bays and estuaries during the warmer months, but move back to the ocean during the colder months. Their name comes from the croaking sound that they make when they vibrate muscles against the swim bladder. Also known as Hardhead.
Native only to Maryland, the Darter has only been found in Deer Creek, Swan Creek, and Gasheys Run in Harford County. Classified as endangered, it has not been seen 1988. A federally-funded effort was launched by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in 2009 to locate the elusive Darter in known waterways, as well as connected waterways, such as the Susquehanna River.
Drum, Black (Pogonias cromis)
Black Drums are dark gray-silver with rounded backs, black fins, 10-14 chin barbels, and pharyngeal teeth. They have a notched dorsal fin. Juveniles have 4-6 vertical black bars and a lighter body. Black Drums can grow up to 66 inches in length. They eat molluscs and crabs. They live in inshore, usually brackish, waters, including estuaries and lagoons, but can be found offshore as well. Black Drums migrate to warmer waters during winter months. Their name comes from their swim bladder which makes a drumming sound when muscles vibrate against it. Also known as Pompey Drum and Puppy Drum.
Drum, Red (Sciaenops ocellatas)
Red Drums are silver with a red-copper hue. They have a long body and at least one black spot at the base of their square tail. Their scales have dark centers and the dorsal fin is notched. Red Drums can grow up to 60 inches in length. Adults live in schools in coastal waters where they eat small fish and crustaceans, while juveniles inhabit estuaries and eat zooplankton and small invertebrates. Red Drums migrate to warmer waters during winter months. Their name comes from their swim bladder which makes a drumming sound when muscles vibrate against it. Also known as Channel Bass and Redfish.
Blueback Herring (Alosa aestivalis) are silver with blue-green backs. They have elongated bodies and small eyes. Blueback Herring have a spot on their shoulder near their gill covers. The lining of their abdominal cavity, or peritoneum, is black.
Menhaden, Atlantic (Brevoortia tyrannus)
Atlantic Menhaden are silver with small black spots on their sides and one larger black spot behind their gill openings. They have scutes on their bellies and a deeply-forked caudal fin. They can grow up to 15 inches in length. Atlantic Menhaden eat plankton and, as adults, they can filter up to 4 gallons of water per minute. They live in schools and spawn in the ocean, but the juveniles move into estuaries and tributaries. They migrate to warmer waters during deeper months. Their name comes from the Native American word "Munnawhatteaug," or fertilizer. Menhaden have been used as fertilizers for crops and as oil. The Chesapeake Bay is a nursery for menhaden. Also known as Alewife, Bunker, Bugmouth, Fat-Back, and Pogy.
Monkfish (Lophius americanus)
Monkfish are brown or olive green with white bellies. Their spiny heads are very wide and they have large mouths with sharp teeth. Their bodies are narrow and taper at the end, giving them the appearance of large tadpoles. The females are larger and can grow up to 54 inches in length, while the male can reach about 36 inches in length. Monkfish live at the bottom of the ocean, camouflaged in the sediment. They catch their prey, mainly fish, by using one of their head spines as a lure. They also will eat crustaceans, molluscs, and water birds. Also known as Anglerfish and Goosefish.
Muskie, Tiger (Esox masquinongy x Esox lucius)
Tiger Muskies are a hybrid of the Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) and Northern Pike (Esox lucius). They are light colored with dark, vertical bars. They have deep bodies, rounded caudal fins, and 10-16 pores on their lower jaw. They can grow up to 48 inches in length. Tiger Muskies are sterile. They eat other fish. They live in freshwater lakes and rivers, staying in shallow areas in the summer and fall, but moving to deeper waters in winter and spring. The Tiger Muskie is a nonnative species, but their origin in Maryland in unknown. Also known as Muskie.
Perch, Yellow (Perca flavescens)
Yellow Perch are yellow or brass-green with 5-8 dark vertical bars and orange-red fins. They have a forked fin and two separate dorsal fins, with one spiny and the other smooth. They can grow up to 12 inches in length. Yellow Perch eat invertebrates, small fish, and crustaceans. They live in freshwater streams and reservoirs, but also live in brackish waters, usually near grass beds. Also known as Ned and Yellow Ned.
Pickerel, Chain (Esox niger)
Chain Pickerel are green with a dark, chain-like pattern and scaled cheeks and gill covers. They have long bodies, long heads with large mouths, and a forked caudal fin. They can grow up to 30 inches in length. Chain Pickerel eat small fish, insects, and crustaceans, ambushing their prey from vegetation or man-made structures. They live in fresh water, including streams, lakes, and tributaries. Also known as Chainsides, Jackpike and Pike.
Pike, Northern (Esox lucius)
Northern Pike are usually olive green or gray with white or yellow bellies. They have yellow spots on their bodies and dark spots on their fins, though juveniles have yellow stripes that later turn into spots. They have five sensory pores on each side of their lower jaw and a bill-shaped mouth. They can grow more than 36 inches in length. They prefer to live in clear, shallow, fresh water, including large lakes, reservoirs, and rivers, particularly in areas with slow current and sufficient cover. Northern Pike eat smaller fish, ambushing their prey with remarkable speed, but will eat their own kind if food is scarce. They also eat small mammals, reptiles, and birds. Their names comes from their resemblance to the pole-like weapon.
Puffer, Northern (Sphoeroides maculatus)
Northern Puffers are gray, olive, or brown with white or yellow bellies. Their club-shaped bodies are covered with small spines. They have black bars on their sides and black spots over most of their body, especially around the cheeks. They have a small beak-like mouth and small dorsal fin. They grow up to 10 inches in length. If they sense danger, Northern Puffers inflate, or puff up, by inhaling air or water. They eat shellfish. They live at the bottom in bay flats and coastal waters, but migrate to deeper waters during winter months. Also known as Sugar Toad.
Seatrout, Spotted (Cynoscion nebulosus)
Spotted Seatrout are gray with silver bellies. They have dark spots across their back as well as the dorsal and caudal fins. They have large teeth and a lower jaw that extended past the upper jaw. They can grow to 36 inches in length. They eat crustaceans and fish. They generally live in shallower waters, including estuaries and rivers, often around oyster beds and among grasses. Spotted Seatrout migrate to warmer waters during winter months. Spotted Trout are not trout, but are members of the Drum family. Also known as Speckled Trout.
Shad, American (Alosa sapidissima)
American Shad are silver with spots on their shoulders. They have scutes on their bellies. They can grow up to 30 inches in length. They eat plankton, crustaceans, and fish eggs. They live in schools in the ocean, but return to their natal freshwater rivers to spawn. They migrate into deeper waters during the winter months. Also known as Atlantic Shad, Common Shad, or White Shad. There is a catch-and-release policy for American Shad in Maryland.
Shad, American Gizzard (Dorosoma cepedianum)
American Gizzard Shad are gray, black, or blue with silver sides and white bellies. They have a dark spot behind their gill openings and their caudal fins are forked. The last ray on the dorsal fin is very long. They produce slime. American Gizzard have a muscular stomach, or gizzard, which grinds up food, which is how they got their name. They can grow to 22 inches in length. They eat invertebrates and phytoplankton. They live in freshwater or brackish bays, rivers, and lakes. They migrate to deeper waters during winter months. Also known as Mud Shad.
Shad, Hickory (Alosa mediocris)
Hickory Shad are gray-green with silver sides. They have at least one dark shoulder spot. They have scutes on their bellies. Their lower jaw extends much further than the upper jaw. They can grow up to 20 inches in length. They eat small fish, crustaceans, insects, and squid. They live in schools in the ocean, but spawn in freshwater rivers and swamps. Also known as Hickory Jacks and Tailor Shad. There is a catch-and-release policy for Hickory Shad in Maryland.
Shark, Sandbar (Carcharhinus plumbeus)
Sandbar Sharks can be brown, gray, or blue with white bellies. They have burly bodies, short, round snouts, and a cartilage skeleton. Their first dorsal fin is very high and triangular and they have very long pectoral fins. They can grow up to 84 inches in length. They eat fish, crabs, and invertebrates. They live in shallow coastal waters, such as harbors and rivers, usually in areas with muddy or sandy bottoms. They migrate to warmer waters during winter months. The Sandbar Shark is the most common shark found in the Chesapeake Bay, which is an important nursery for the species. Also known as Brown Shark and Thickskin Shark.
Shark, Spiny Dogfish (Squalus acanthias)
Spiny Dogfish Sharks are brown or gray with white or gray bellies and white spots along the back. They have flattened heads, narrow snouts, and large eyes with iridescent pupils. The upper lobe of their caudal fin is longer and they are lacking an anal fin. They have two spines, which are located in front of each dorsal fin and which contain poison. If the Spiny Dogfish Shark is attacked or captured, it arches its back and strikes the aggressor with the spine(s). They can grow up to around 60 inches in length. They eat fish, squid, and crustaceans. They live in schools, or "packs" (hence the name "dogfish"), in the ocean near the bottom and migrate to deeper waters during winter months. Also known as Mud Shark, Piked Dogfish, Rock Salmon, Rock Shark, Sand Shark, and Spurdog.
Shiner, Mimic (Notropis volucellus)
Mimic Shiners are silver, gray, or olive with outlined scales and a dark stripe along the sides. They have small bodies, large eyes, and a round snout. They have transparent fins and eight anal rays. They can reach up to 3 inches in length. They eat algae, insects, and small crustaceans. Mimic Shiners live in freshwater lakes and streams, usually in areas with little current and but containing vegetation. Their name comes from the difficulty of classifying these fish as they closely resemble other shiners. The Mimic Shiner is an invasive species.
Snakehead, Northern (Channa argus)
Northern Snakeheads are gold-brown with dark blotches on the sides and back. They have flattened heads, long dorsal and anal fins, and large mouths and canine teeth. They can grow up to 40 inches in length. An aggressive predator, they eat fish, crustaceans, and amphibians. They live in shallow, freshwater areas that are stagnant or with slow-moving currents, including ponds, rivers, and swamps. They need to breathe air. Northern Snakeheads are able to survive on land for up to four days as long as their skin stays wet and they can wriggle or "walk" to other waters. The Northern Snakehead is an invasive species.
In August 2008, a single brood of over 150 Snakeheads was located and destroyed in Charles County. In an effort to curb their spread, State regulations prohibit import or transportation of any live fish or viable eggs into Maryland.
Spot (Leiostomus xanthurus)
Spot are gray-blue with yellowish bellies and fins and small heads. They have a large black spot behind their gill opening and around fifteen darker bars along their bodies. They can grow up to 14 inches in length. They eat detritus, molluscs, worms, and crustaceans. Spot live in estuaries, bays, and coastal waters, but migrate to deeper waters during winter months. They make a croaking sound with their swim bladder. Also known as Spot Croaker.
Sturgeon, Atlantic (Acipenser oxyrhinchus)
Atlantic Sturgeon are black-blue or olive with tan sides and white bellies. They have sloped heads and long snouts with four barbels. Their small mouth is on the underside of their heads. They have five rows of scutes. They can grow up to 14 feet in length, but are usually around 5-8 feet. They eat crustaceans, molluscs, and worms. They live in the ocean, but return to their freshwater natal rivers to spawn. Juveniles will spend several years in fresh or brackish waters before moving into the ocean. Atlantic Sturgeon will occasionally leap out of the water, exposing the whole body.
Federally classified as endangered, the Atlantic Sturgeon was once a common sight in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, including the Pocomoke and Potomac rivers. A primary food source for early colonists, the sturgeon population of Maryland has decreased from an estimated 20,000 fish during the 1800s, to fewer than 300 today. State and Federal efforts are underway to increase the sturgeon's population. Atlantic Sturgeon cannot be caught in Maryland.
Sturgeon, Shortnose (Acipenser brevirostrum)
Snortnose Sturgeon are black or brown. They are bony fish, with five rows of plates covering their scaleless bodies, and short snouts and four barbels or whiskers. Their mouths are located on the bottom of their heads. They eat crustaceans, insects, and mollusks off the bottom of rivers and estuaries. They live in freshwater and brackish environments. Females can live twice as long as males. Shortnose Sturgeon are the largest native fish in the Chesapeake Bay. Also known as Bottlenose, Little Sturgeon, and Roundnoser. Classified as Endangered.
Trout, Brown (Salmo trutta)
Brown Trout are generally olive or brown with gold sides and whitish bellies. They have black spots inside light circles across their back, sides, and dorsal fin, but can also have red spots on their lower sides. Some can be silver with white bellies and few spots. Brown Trout usually grow to around 14 inches in length, but larger specimens have been found. They eat fish, amphibians, insects, and birds. While many live in freshwater river and lakes, others migrate to the ocean, only returning to spawn. The Brown Trout is an introduced species.
Trout, Rainbow (Oncorhynchus mykiss)
Rainbow Trout vary in color and size depending on habitat and subspecies. They are usually blue-green or olive, but in Maryland, they can be green-silver with silver sides. They have black spots over most of their body and a red stripe along their sides. They usually grow up to 13 inches in length, but larger specimens have been found. They eat insects, crustaceans, fish eggs and carcasses. Many live in rivers and lakes with gravel bottoms, though some migrate to the ocean, returning only to spawn. Rainbow Trout is an introduced species and is main fish grown in Maryland trout hatcheries.
Weakfish (Cynoscion regalis)
Weakfish are gray-olive green with iridescent blue, green, purple, or copper sides and white-silver bellies. They have black spots along their backs and sides. Weakfish have large mouths with two large canine teeth, but weak jaw muscles, the origin of their name. They have a lower jaw that extends further than the upper jaw. Their fins are yellow or yellow-tinged. They can grow up to 29 inches in length. They eat fish, crustaceans, molluscs, and squid. They live in schools in shallower coastal waters, but migrate to warmer waters during winter months. They make a drumming sound. The Chesapeake Bay is important for spawning weakfish. Also known as Drummer, Gray Trout, Sea Trout, Squeteague, and Tiderunner.
Weatherfish, Oriental (Misgurnus anguillicaudatus)
Oriental Weatherfish are brown-yellow with green-gray or brown markings on the top and silver bellies. They have long eel-like bodies, small mouths, and six chin barbels. They can grow up to 12 inches in length. They eat detritus, insects, worms, snails, and fish eggs. They live in freshwater lakes, ponds, rivers, and swamps, where they prefer slow currents and muddy bottoms. Oriental Weatherfish become extremely active when the barometric pressure changes due to severe weather, which is how they got their name. The Oriental Weatherfish is an invasive species. Also known as Loach.
July 1, 2015
Note: In this past edition of Maryland Manual, some links are to external sites.