25 Mar 2006

Re~Wilding


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The Herring of New York

Note: This article first appeared in the April 1993 issue of The Conservationist magazine. Updated June 1999. Authors- Eileen C. Stegemann & Douglas Stang. Twelfth in a 14-part series describing the Freshwater Fishes of New York.

It's the beginning of April. Early spring in New York State, the forsythia is in bud and much is happening in our waters. From out of the ocean, the first of the herring are finding their way home. After having spent many years out at sea, their strong instinct guides them back to the freshwaters where they were hatched.

Unusual among other New York freshwater fish, herring are anadromous, meaning they spend the bulk of their lives in the ocean and only return to freshwater to reproduce. Each year they return, migrating up large rivers in huge spawning runs.

The first to arrive are the graybacks, known to most people as alewives. They come by the thousands, swimming the miles quickly and darting past sluggish river fish just waking from their winter's nap.

Not long after, the tiny blooms of white shadbush greet the schools of shad making their way upstream. Their silvery iridescent scales are shaded with blue and green, the colors of spring. The shad come in waves, strong with the tide, slowing only a short while to taste the sweetness of the freshwater after the salt of the sea. They press on north in the rivers.

Last to arrive are the bluebacks. They are greeted by the warming waters of spring. The bluebacks seem to signal the lilacs to bloom, which add their purple and white colors to the river banks.

The annual arrival of spawning herring has made them important commercial and recreational fish species. Each spring fisherman head out to catch their share of these tasty fish.

In New York State, the Hudson River is the largest river entirely within state borders that is home to all members of the herring family. Freshwater portions of New York's Delaware River also receive herring runs, but only after the fish have traveled through bordering states. In addition, limited alewife runs also occur in smaller estuaries on Long Island.
Description

Herring are silvery iridescent in color with hints of pearly white, blue and purple, green, and yellow. They have large black spots on their sides which contrast with the silver.

Herring are built for speed, slender and slick. Sharp scales located along the edge of the belly give them their nickname "sawbellies." While species of herring are difficult to tell apart, look close for the details: a difference in body size, shape of the jaw, and size of the eye.
Reproduction

As stated before, most herring are anadromous, spending the bulk of their lives in the ocean and only returning to freshwater to reproduce or spawn. This ability to move between salty ocean water and freshwater is no small feat, it is tremendous stress on their bodies. The fish are here to spawn and do not eat for the eight to ten weeks this process takes. Surprisingly, only a few never make it back to the ocean.

When spawning begins, millions upon millions of tiny specks of golden-green eggs are released to drift with the currents. Adult fish return to the ocean; no parental care is given either the eggs or the young. Of the millions of eggs released, only a few will survive.

By midsummer, young herring look like small versions of their parents. They swim together in huge schools where there is safety in numbers. Often, these young herring swim along shore, moving in response to the brightness of the sun. On calm evenings, they give themselves away, leaping out of the water and snapping at tiny insects at the water's surface.

As fall approaches and the rivers' water cools, these young fish head out to sea. They remain there for several years before returning to spawn in the water where they spend their first months of life.

Feeding ((etc...))

Beautiful Babylon Babies Unite !!!

This Blog existed after Bush II "the lesser" stole 2 elections, before Google ate Blogger,

This Blog existed after Bush II "the lesser" stole 2 elections, before Google ate Blogger,
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