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[photo, National Aquarium in Baltimore,
Pier III, Baltimore Inner Harbor, 501 East Pratt St., Baltimore, Maryland] With the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland is home to one of the most extensive displays of aquatic life in the world. Home to more than 660 different species, the Aquarium displays a diverse look at sealife.

National Aquarium in Baltimore, Pier III, Baltimore Inner Harbor, 501 East Pratt St., Baltimore, Maryland, December 2007. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

[photo, Catfish, Accokeek, Maryland] 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.

Catfish. Accokeek, Maryland, May 2011. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

The most obvious gilled resident is the State fish, the Rockfish, or Striped Bass. It is one of over 40 different species of fish and shellfish found in Maryland. Other common fish include the Bluegill, Brook Trout, and Northern Pike. A member of the Centrarchidae, or Sunfish family, the Bluegill is found in nearly all tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay. The only trout native to the State, the Brook or Speckled Trout swims in nearly 100 Maryland streams. The Northern Pike can grow to over three feet in length, and more than 20 pounds. It prefers lakes and larger rivers, and is favored among fishers due to its size.

Another gilled resident of the State is the Maryland Darter (Etheostoma sellare). 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 in two decades, and a new effort is being launched to find the elusive fish. A federally funded Maryland Department of Natural Resources effort is trying to locate the Darter in known waterways, as well as connected waterways, such as the Susquehanna River.

Not yet 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. Efforts are underway to increase the sturgeon's population, including a movement to have the fish added to the endangered species list.

Maryland also is home to a large number of shellfish, including the Blue Crab, the Bay Scallop, and the Eastern Oyster. Though best known for their culinary role, the State's crustacean community is integral to Maryland's history and sustenance. Besides their contribution to State exports, oysters particularly are important for their shell deposits create beds and reefs, forming habitats for other creatures. Some deposits, due to continuous layering, can be as much as 50-feet thick. In fact, the city of Crisfield in Somerset County is built upon a foundation of oyster shells.

Information on species of fish and shellfish, fishing locations, and licenses is provided by the Department of Natural Resources.

Aquafarms are another example of Maryland's aquatic ties. A growing number of sites throughout the State export farm-raised sea life, including oysters, eels, and blue crabs, beside more traditional fish.

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. One is the increasing presence of invasive species, such as the Zebra Mussel (Dreissena polymorpha), and a variety of Snakehead (Family: Channidae). Native to eastern Europe, the Zebra Mussel filters phytoplankton from the water, and can produce 30,000 to one million eggs per year. The prolific nature of these creatures, combined with their ability to dramatically alter ecosystems, can lead to major ecologic disasters if not monitored. Though less damaging to its surroundings, the Snakehead, a predator from Asia and Africa, is no less a threat to Maryland wildlife. Averaging between two to three feet in length, it is able to survive on land for up to four days, and has no natural predators to keep it in check. 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.

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 casused 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.

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 Maryland Manual On-Line, 2011

August 9, 2011   
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