Each weekend, tons of boats descend on Indian River and Rehoboth Bays,
targeting flounder, bluefish, stripers, and crabs. The inlet is fished almost constantly, with lures being thrown into eddies from sun up to sun down – and sometimes, from sun down to sun up!
The Inland Bays are indeed a fishing destination for many in the region, but they are not unique in this aspect. Estuaries (those areas where rivers meet the ocean) are extremely productive fishing grounds. And while the public may recognize that the open waters of these bays harbor doormat sized flounder (really!) and delectable blue crabs, few people realize that the shallow shoreline areas are just as important for their fishing success.
The nearshore waters of the Inland Bays are a critical nursery for countless juvenile fish species. The shallow shoreline waters provide a refuge from predators, creating a safer environment for juvenile fish to grow. With few large predators, and an abundance of food, the shoreline areas of our bays are the perfect nursery.
Not only do important recreational species like Summer Flounder and Atlantic Croaker use these shoreline areas as nurseries, but numerous species of small bait fish such as Atlantic Silversides and Atlantic Menhaden do as well. While these bait fish species aren’t caught by anglers, they are immensely important to sustaining the food web and directly serve as a source of food for the more sought after fish like Bluefish and Stripers.
The amount of fish using these nearshore areas is staggering.
Annually, the Center manages a volunteer-led citizen science Inshore Fish Seining Survey, which samples 16 shoreline sites throughout the Bays, documenting what species are using the shoreline areas and at what sizes. What we’ve seen is that the shoreline areas of our Inland Bays are habitat for over 70 species of fish, and provide a nursery area for both recreationally and ecologically important fish species, not to mention the thousands upon thousands of juvenile blue crabs. It is not uncommon for a single seine to catch over 500 juvenile blue crabs and several thousand fish! And that’s just within a 100-foot section of the shoreline!
So what can we do to help sustain healthy populations of fish and blue crabs?
We can start by preserving our natural shorelines. Research has shown that hardened shorelines like bulkheads and rip rap are not the preferred habitat for many of our inshore fish species. A transition from soft shorelines like marsh edges or sandy beaches to hardened shorelines could negatively impact many of the juvenile fish the food web and anglers rely on. We recommend living shorelines as a solution.
Second, we need to reduce the amount of nutrients entering our bays. Excess nutrients can lead to harmful algal blooms, which have the potential to kill fish and crabs.
Third, you can join our survey crew and learn more for yourself, while simultaneously helping us gather data.
The shoreline areas of our Inland Bays are wondrously diverse and important areas that support mind-blowing amounts of juvenile fish and crabs. And while they don’t get the attention they deserve, they are the secret to our fishing success.