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STRIPED BASS SURPRISE RESEARCHERS BY 'SUMMERING' IN PLUM ISLAND SOUND

Rita Oliveira Monteiro

Cristina Kennedy and Martha Mather release a tagged bass in the UMass Amherst Adopt-a-Bass program in Plum Island Sound.


He first showed up on the shores of Plum Island Sound in June, near Middle Ground Island, hitting the best restaurants he could find throughout the summer. He stayed on through the season, heading south in September for the warmer climate of Delaware Bay. But when the summer rolled around again, he was back at his old haunts in Plum Island.

Bababooey, a schoolie striped bass (the fish equivalent of a teenager),  was showing behavior that is not only typical of summer vacationers but  also of  striped bass, an important recreational and commercial fish that migrate along the Atlantic Coast.  As Linda Deegan and other scientists at  the Ecosystems Center's Plum Island Long Term Ecological Research project measure the impact of predator fish on food sources in the Plum Island estuary, they are discovering that 70 per cent of the stripers they studied that migrated from over-wintering spots like Delaware Bay in late March and April to Plum Island were not just passing through. They were there for the summer.

"We had previously thought that the fish stair-stepped their way up the coast,"  said Martha Mather, a principal investigator on the Plum Island project. "So we decided to investigate whether their stop at Plum Island was a rest stop on the way to Maine, or a longer stay at their summer cottage."

An important tool in making this surprising discovery was acoustic tagging. Once the fish are tagged,  receivers, or "acoustic arrays," along the Atlantic coast pick up their movements. An essential component in the tagging program has been the "Adopt-a-Bass" program, developed by Deegan and the University of Massachusetts Amherst striped bass group and maintained by Cristina Kennedy, a former Ecosystems Center research assistant and current UMass graduate student.  For $30, people are invited to name their adopted fish and receive updates on its behavior, while contributing to research on an important fishery stock.

Ms. Kennedy said the majority of adopters were avid recreational fishermen with a connection to Plum Island Sound. She also noted that recreational striped bass fishermen are generally "impressed and surprised" by the fact that individual striped bass return to Plum Island the following year.

As for Bababooey, he was detected in Plum Island more than 3,400 times and his sponsor was able to monitor his movements for a full year. He was last spotted in June in his favorite vacation place along the Plum Island River.