Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Native Fish of New Jersey

A New Jersey native - brook trout

If you are an avid New Jersey angler, you can probably can distinguish a largemouth from a smallmouth bass and a brown trout from a brook trout. But even anglers might not know that most of our popular gamefish were introduced to our state for recreational purposes.

Northern pike, channel catfish, rainbow and brown trout, hybrid stripers, common carp, crappie and even bluegill are NOT native to New Jersey. Of the nearly 100 freshwater fish species that swim in our waters, only 65 of them are native.

Native does NOT mean a fish that was born in the wild - such as when someone says they caught "a native brown trout," (Brown trout are native to the British Isles and the European mainland, so New Jerseyeans catch wild brown trout.) So, just because that brown trout or largemouth bass reproduces in New Jersey waters, that does not make them native.

Then what IS a native species? It is one that is naturally occurring within the geographical region in which it evolved, and not one that was dispersed by humans (intentionally or unintentionally) beyond their original geographical region.

NJ's better known native sportfish are the chain pickerel, brook trout, pumpkinseed, redbreast sunfish, yellow perch, American shad, American eels, white catfish and bullheads. That leaves the majority of our native fishes as relatively unknown and very likely are species that will never be caught by anglers.

There are 85 species of freshwater fish found in NJ. Our bays, estuaries and marine waters can be home to 28 marine mammals and 336 marine finfish at some point during the year. This is an exceptional number of species for a state as small as New Jersey.

On that list of freshwater fish, you will find species identified as "exotic" (such as the Grass and Common Carp), "extirpated" (Longnose Gar), "native" (American Shad) and "introduced" (Rainbow Trout).

The shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum) is endangered Federally and in NJ. This Garden State native's habitat includes river mouths, tidal rivers, estuaries, and bays. In addition, individuals occasionally enter the open ocean. A significant portion of New Jersey's shortnose sturgeon occurs in the upper tidal Delaware River.

More About New Jersey's Native Fish

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