The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

Teleost Tuesday: Harbor Fish Part 1, Cunner

Posted by Wells Reserve Contributor | February 13, 2007

Wells Harbor is a fantastic place to see local species of fish. Its wooden piers and docks provide human access above a subtidal zone (a place that never fully drains during low tide) and often 'harbors' schools of juvenile and adult fishes. The pilings and docks provide structure for many species of plants and animals that attach themselves to the substrate and provide habitat for many invertebrate species, amphipods and copepods in particular, which find shelter within this "fouling" community

Likewise, fish find shelter from bird predators and the strong current during tide change among the docks and pilings. Fish also take advantage of the invertebrates living among the fouling communities for food.

Winter is the quieter time of year for the harbor's water-dwelling creatures (and commercial fishers). One might even think the water is dormant or empty of sea life. But when I went to retrieve some water quality monitoring equipment that gets deployed for several weeks on end, I was greeted by half a dozen juvenile Cunner (Tautogolabrus adspersus) in my equipment. (I also met about a dozen green crabs hiding in the deployment tube!)

These little fishes, no more than an inch long, were seeking refuge in my water quality instrument, which is attached to a piling. Cunner, also known as sea perch, typically live in rocky areas, and prefer areas with cover — such as harbor docks. They are often found in Irish moss, fronds of kelp, or eelgrass beds. They don't school, though may congregate in favored habitats.

Cunner are omnivorous, with crustaceans, bivalves, mollusks, and fish comprising much of their diet. They use their jaws to grind hard-shelled invertebrates, and also scavenge. Their geographic range is the Atlantic coast from Newfoundland to Chesapeake Bay. My sources tell me they spawn in the summer, but these juveniles I saw today told me something different...

Even now in the chilly days of January, one might be able to catch a glimpse of harbor life. Certainly the herring gulls and sea ducks abound, but a sharp eye might be able to catch a fish jutting about.

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