The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Inland Fisheries Division has assembled a team of engineers, biologists and anglers to develop a largemouth bass improvement strategy for the Choptank River, which has seen a decline in black bass reproduction in recent years.
“There are far fewer adults and juveniles in the Choptank River than there were 10 years ago,” says DNR tidal Bass manager Joseph Love. “There are a lot of possible reasons for that. We’re trying to focus on one of the most important reasons that the population seems to be struggling, and that’s reproduction.”
The first step of the program includes the temporary installation of nesting boxes, which will provide sanctuary for the fry. Male bass usually build and guard nests so juvenile fish may survive and grow. However, the persistent flow of runoff silt from the cleared properties that surround the upper Choptank has impaired the deep water nesting areas, leaving just the shallow spots as suitable nesting habitat. These shallow spots can make juveniles more vulnerable to predators, such as herons, ospreys, and other birds.
Maryland Bass Federation volunteers and DNR staff are working together to build wooden nesting boxes for placing this month.
This experiment will begin in the Watts Creek area. It’s important that anglers and other boaters remain aware of these boxes so they can be left alone and, as tempting as it may be, it’s important for anglers to avoid fishing for the protective males that are guarding these nests.
If the program is successful, DNR will expand the program to other parts of the river.
DNR is also working with the State Highway Administration and local residents to temporarily stock local ponds near the river with bass ready to spawn. Once these fish have reproduced, they will be returned to the river, leaving offspring behind to feast on plankton and grow in the absence of large predators until they are big enough to fend for themselves.
Additionally, DNR’s long-term bass stocking program will add more than half a million fry and fingerlings to the Choptank River system over the next ten years.
“Stocking of largemouth bass is absolutely necessary— especially in the Choptank and Chester Rivers,” said DNR Eastern Regional Manager Richard Schaefer.
The Largemouth Bass Choptank River Initiative is a partnership of DNR Division of Inland Fisheries, Maryland Bass Federation Nation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Maryland State Highway Administration, and the residents of Greensboro and Denton, Md.