For much of February and into March, the Chesapeake Bay was covered with ice. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ four ice-breakers were in high demand, working in the Severn River, Tangier Sound, the Kent Narrows area and the mid-Bay areas around the Choptank River.
Commercial fishermen struggled. Tangier and Smith island were iced in for days. One waterman lost his boat trying to oyster in Rock Hall. Many watermen lost income in a year when it matters a lot - oysters are at $50 a bushel, nearly twice the price two years ago.
But one group that likely hasn’t struggled? The fish. Despite appearances to the contrary, the fish survive in these frigid waters. They’ve been doing it for centuries.
‘This is something that has happened in the past. They endure it. They can tolerate it,” said Harry Hornick, fisheries biologist with the Department of Natural Resources. “We have had years with a lot more ice. I honestly don’t think ice is hurting the fish.”
Hornick said that, when he and his staff sample nets in November, the fish thrive even in cold temperatures.
Yellow perch generally spawn in early March. The ice may hamper a fisherman’s ability to catch a yellow perch, but not the fish’s ability to spawn, Hornick said.
Striped bass spawn in early April and continue through May. They like water temperatures of 57 to 66 degrees. If those temperatures don’t occur until later, Hornick said, the fish will wait.
Cold, wet springs are good for all anadromous fish production, those fish that spawn in freshwater rivers but spend much of their lives in the oceans.
So, while humans may be tired of winter and all this cold and wet, the fish think the water is fine.