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Author Topic: Interesting Read - Secrets of Bay Fish Sought in Their Stomachs  (Read 1997 times)
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Sndpiper
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« on: April 18, 2005, 10:42:08 AM »

Secrets of Bay Fish Sought in Their Stomachs
Updated: Monday, Apr. 18, 2005 - 6:08 AM


By MATT SABO
Daily Press
GLOUCESTER, Va. (AP) - Jim Gartland dons latex gloves, grabs a pair of scissors and starts cutting what appears to be a tan, viscous fishwrap with a tail sticking out of it.

He peels away the sticky layers of wrapping to reveal one 10-inch long menhaden and the meat-and-bone remnants of another "very well-digested menhaden," Gartland said. The covering wasn't fishwrap, however. It was actually the stomach from a 32-inch, 15-pound striped bass out of the Chesapeake Bay. Gartland was cutting it open as part of a Virginia Institute of Marine Science survey in its fourth year to study the fish-eat-fish world of the Chesapeake Bay.

The study, overseen by VIMS professor Chris Bonzek, is compiling the largest database on the diet of fish in the Chesapeake Bay. The idea is to try and determine the health of fish species - for both prey and predators - based on what's in the stomachs of predators.

Every year of the program, about 4,000 to 5,000 fish have their stomachs sliced open to see what was for breakfast, lunch or dinner. That's a lot of seafood, but Gartland isn't tempted to throw a study subject on the barbecue.

"I'm allergic to fish," Gartland said. "There's no conflict of interests."

Previous studies of fish diets were localized, such as a study of stomachs from 500 to 1,000 fish caught in 3-pound nets in the York River, Bonzek said.

Nothing of this kind has been undertaken on such a broad scale, where fish caught year-round from Baltimore to the Capes are examined. The study is raising just as many questions as it is providing answers.

A case in point is an early assumption that 50 percent of the stomach contents by weight of striped bass would be menhaden, said Rob Latour, an assistant professor at VIMS. But data compiled during the study shows only about 5 percent to 10 percent of the stomach contents by weight of striped bass are menhaden, he said.

"That's startling," Latour said.

Why such a difference? Latour can't answer that right now. He doesn't know if it means there are fewer menhaden or if striped bass are changing their diets.

The study has also found that older striped bass aren't eating the amount of fish such as menhaden that were anticipated. Instead, fish older than five or six years are eating invertebrates such as sand shrimp.

"Is it random: 'I eat what I eat in front of me?' " he said. "If they're seeking it out, why? Is it high energy? Is it easier to catch?"

Another startling finding has been what's in the stomachs of striped bass caught trolling for food in seagrass, said Deb Parthree, a marine scientist who helps compile data on the project.

In deep water, only 1 percent of the weight of stomach contents of striped bass consists of blue crabs, Parthree said. But in shallower water where seagrass is growing, 80 percent of the stomach contents of striped bass consists of juvenile blue crabs.

Which leads Latour to another question: "Is this interaction for the blue crab a negative impact?"

Perhaps the answers lie in the unopened stacks of five-gallon buckets in a VIMS office where Gartland and others perform their work. Inside the buckets are fish. Lots of fish.

"You need," Bonzek said, "to look at a lot of stomachs of fish to see what's there."

The Daily Press is published in Newport News.

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jengirl1014
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I love crabs! (but then again, who doesn't?)




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« Reply #1 on: April 18, 2005, 01:25:31 PM »

How can he work with something he's allergic to? Huh
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Jen! :-)

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