As discussed in previous versions of Net Notes, with the onset of winter and the precipitous drop in water temperatures in Chesapeake Bay the number of species within the bay drops as well. As a result, catches aboard the R/V Fish Hawk not only tend to hold fewer fish but also fewer species. That being said, during December 2009 and January 2010 scientists from the VIMS Trawl Survey still noted several interesting occurrences.
During December 2009, survey scientists identified several Northern Sand Lances, one of two sand lances known to occur locally. The Northern Sand Lance is a rare visitor to Chesapeake Bay during fall and winter. It is difficult to differentiate, without the aid of a dissection microscope, from the other sand lance known to occur locally, the American Sand Lance. These two species can only be separated by counting plicae (skin folds) along the lateral line.
Both sand lance species occur on the continental shelf of the northeastern United States and the Canadian Maritime Provinces and are important food items for cod, haddock, and several whale species. Neither sand lance is common within Chesapeake Bay and the specimens collected in December are the first northern sand lance records from Chesapeake Bay since 2006 and double the total number counted on the survey since its inception in 1955.
Northern Sand Lances possess narrow elongate bodies with sharp snouts and deeply forked caudal fins (tails) with a single dorsal fin that extends nearly the entire length of their bodies. Sand lances often burrow in the bottom with just their head remaining above the sediment surface.
During the January 2010 survey, VIMS personnel noted an unusually high number of Striped Mullet. Striped Mullet are one of two species of mullet known to frequent Chesapeake Bay and can be distinguished from the White Mullet by counting the spines and rays of the anal fin. A Striped Mullet has 11 total elements while the White Mullet has 12 total elements.
Striped Mullet are regular visitors to Chesapeake Bay from summer through autumn and are then thought to migrate offshore. Contrary to this, VIMS Trawl Survey records of Striped Mullet are highest during the late fall and winter months. In our area Striped Mullet are commonly used as baitfish but in other regions where they attain greater lengths (up to 4 feet) they are prized table fare both for their flesh as well as for their roe.