Striped bass live most of the year in the ocean, but migrate to freshwater to spawn. The word used to describe these fish is anadromous. Other anadromous species found in the Chesapeake region include the alewife, American shad and Atlantic sturgeon. Can you match these fish with their descriptions? Answers are below.

Striped bass swimming

Striped bass

1. This fish has been around for more than 120 million years – when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. It can grow more than 14 feet long and weigh more than 800 pounds, making it the largest fish native to the Chesapeake. One of the amazing things about this fish is its ability to leap totally out of the water. Early settlers regarded this fish a navigational hazard because they sometimes landed on a boat, occasionally injuring or killing a person in it. This fish may stick around in the river it was born in for as long as six years, not to return to spawn until it matures 15 years (female) or 20 years (male) later. When this happens, every three to five years, the female will lay approximately 2 million eggs or more.

2. The species part of this fish’s scientific name is sapidissima, which means “most delicious.” At least 8,000 years ago, the appearance of serviceberry flowers alerted Chesapeake’s native people that this fish’s spring spawning run was near. This led to another name for the serviceberry: shadbush. George Washington’s fishery operation on the Potomac River captured more than 11,000 of these species in 1772. In 1789, a new community at Otsego Lake at Cooperstown, NY, was saved from near starvation when an early spawning run by this fish and/or its cousin, the river herring, swam up 444 miles to their settlement at the river’s headwaters.

3. Theis thin fish with a chubby belly shares its name with a 15th-century plump tavernkeeper. This fish is silvery with a grayish green back except when it spawns. At that time, it can become darker or lighter to blend in with the bed of the river where it spawns.

4. The Chesapeake’s anadromous fish populations are near historic lows. This is due to:

A. The construction of dams, which prevent them from reaching spawning habitat

B. Overfishing

C. Pollution

D. All of the above

5. Fish that live in freshwater but must return to the ocean to spawn are catadromous. North America’s only catadromous species is found in the Bay watershed. It is the…

A. American eel

B. Cownose ray

C. Oyster toadfish

D. Yellow perch


1. Atlantic sturgeon

2. American shad

3. Alewife

4. D

5. A

Kathleen Gaskell is the Bay Journal's copy editor and author of Chesapeake Challenge. Contact Kathleen at

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