Go Fish! Campers discover the Chesapeake’s bounty with help from graduate students

August 16, 2018
Fish were encircled in the seine net and pulled in at the shoreline.

For the past 19 years, summer seining has been a weekly highlight for graduate students at UMCES Chesapeake Biological Laboratory (CBL), but for the 7- to 12-year-old children enrolled in this summer’s Greenwell Foundation Fishing Camp it was a new adventure.

As Ph.D. student Reed Brodnik anchored one end of the seine net at the shoreline, master’s students Ellie Rothermel and Kathryn Doering dragged the other end through the waters of the Patuxent River at Greenwell State Park. Shouts of excitement from the campers greeted the fish that were encircled in the net.  CBL graduate students from the Tidewater Chapter of the American Fisheries Society - UMD Student Subunit taught the campers how to identify each of the species they caught, and explained each species’ unique role in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem as the fish were returned to the water.

Campers got to see menhaden, Atlantic silversides, and white perch, among other fish species, and learned about what forage fish are.

“When we brought the fish caught in the seine into a bucket, the kids were able to see the different species right near the beach that they had been playing on earlier. They were surprised to see so many fish,” said Doering. “In particular, the seining event was cool for the kids because we caught some species that they weren't likely to see from fishing with a hook and line. The kids' enthusiasm was contagious!”

Campers also learned how Chesapeake Bay water quality impacts the fish they caught, and how oysters help clean our waters. After seining, CBL students brought the campers over to two aquariums of river water that they had set up just an hour prior.  Campers added equal amounts of shellfish food (algae) to the two aquariums.  In one of the aquariums, now crystal clear, they had added ten oysters. The pristine water that had been filtered by the oysters stood in stark contrast to the murky water that didn’t have oysters in it.

“It’s like magic!” one of the campers exclaimed. This time-lapse condenses 1 hour of video to show the impacts 10 oysters filtering-feeding in an aquarium have on water clarity versus an aquarium without oysters. R. Brodnik/CBL.

The Greenwell Fishing Camp is funded by the Southern Maryland Recreational Fishing Organization (SMRFO), who provide all fishing rods, tackle, and bait used throughout the week. Volunteers from SMRFO serve as instructors for the Greenwell Fishing Camp and teach campers about the types of fish that can be caught in the Chesapeake Bay and the basics of tying lures, casting on land, and cutting bait.  Campers use their newfound skills to catch fish on the Greenwell State Park pier. By mid-week, the campers are ready to adventure out on boat-based fishing trips on the Patuxent River with their SMRFO instructors and captains.

 “The inclusion of CBL students in the Greenwell Fishing Camp experience is a valuable hands-on addition to learning about our marine environment and the need for conservation. It is certainly a good example of the power of partnerships and how different organizations can come together for the benefit of the community and the State of Maryland,” said Phil Zalesak, president of SMRFO.

Through the three week-long fishing camps offered this summer, 45 campers will learn how to fish and how to be good citizens for the Bay. Each camper leaves camp with a brand new fishing rod, bottom rig, and lure, courtesy of SMRFO, so he or she can continue to fish after the camp ends. 

CBL graduate students helped to inspire the next generation of Chesapeake Bay stewards.

“Fishing is an immersive experience that teaches kids patience, requires problem solving, and allows them to observe and appreciate the outdoors and the habitats that support the animals they see and hold in their hands during the camps,” said Brodnik, who also helps with the boat-based fishing trips as a member of SMRFO. “To me, the most enjoyable aspect of the events is the candid sense of accomplishment and confidence the kids have when they catch fish. But, it all starts with getting them outdoors, teaching them about fish and the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, and allowing them to discover for themselves what it is that drives people like me to go fishing.”