Atlantic Ocean and Coastal Bays:
Fisheries Services' 2009 Year In Review


Coastal Program Year in Review

2009 was a busy year for the Coastal Fisheries Staff. Not all the work that was completed was glamorous, but all of it is important. The more glamorous work conducted in 2009 two main projects during the year, the Coastal Bays Fisheries Investigation (CBFI) and the Survey of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna and Billfish (White Marlin, Blue Marlin, Swordfish and Sailfish) Recreational Landings in Maryland. The CBFI has four annual components: the Trawl and Beach Seine Survey, Offshore Trawl Survey, Seafood Dealer Catch Monitoring, and the Maryland Volunteer Angler Summer Flounder Survey.

Coastal Bays Fisheries Investigation (CBFI)

The annual Trawl and Beach Seine Survey is the longest running component of the CBFI. Each month, April through October, our staff samples many sites in the back bays of Maryland, from the Delaware line to the Virginia line, with a 16 foot trawl net pulled behind the boat. Twice a year, in June and September, a 100 foot beach seine is used to sample 19 sites in shallow water portions of the bays. A video summary of our sampling efforts can be found on YouTube at: . Everything caught is identified, counted, and measured. This way, a running inventory of the species and their abundance in the bays is documented over a long time period. These gears are excellent at sampling young of the year fishes and provide an idea about reproductive success for a given species in a year. Information from the Trawl and Beach Seine Survey is used in the management of summer flounder, black sea bass, weakfish, tautog, bluefish, and many other fish species.

Drop net sampling allowed MDNR to document fishes utilizing SAV and nearby unvegetated patches. Samples were taken each month from June through September. So far, over 15 species of fishes and invertebrates have been collected from one sample site in Sinepuxent Bay. A few of the collected species include: summer flounder, black sea bass, silver perch, pipefishes, silversides, anchovies, shrimps, and blue crabs. Documenting species diversity in SAV is important to fisheries management because of potential impacts to commercial and recreational fisheries, changes in the food web, and displacement of native species.

Seafood Dealer Catch Monitoring

Seafood Dealer Catch Monitoring involved sampling commercial harvests of summer flounder, striped bass, and weakfish from two Ocean City seafood dealers. Length, weight and age data were collected on these species and this information is used in their management. In recent years the local commercial harvest of these species has been concentrated in November, December, and January.

Offshore Trawl Survey

Catches were sampled onboard commercial trawlers fishing out of Ocean City from late summer into the winter months. This surveying provided the MDNR Atlantic Program with data on adult finfish and invertebrate size frequencies that are not available from the inshore Trawl and Beach Seine Survey. Examples of species sampled for lengths in 2009 include summer flounder, spiny dogfish, whelks, croaker, spot, butterfish, weakfish, rays, skates, sturgeon, and horseshoe crabs. Those data will be used for fisheries management.

Survey of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (ABT) and Billfish (White Marlin, Blue Marlin, Swordfish and Sailfish) Recreational Landings in Maryland

This was our 11th year collecting dockside harvest information on all bluefin tuna and billfishes landed in Maryland. These data (permit number, length, girth, etc.) are collected from angler’s completing a catch card in order to receive a tag, which legally allows the fish to be removed from a vessel. In a cooperative program with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the data are used to track the bluefin tuna recreational harvest.

For 2009 season, boats fishing under Angling category permits and Charter/Headboat category permits were allowed one large school/small medium and one school-sized ABT In 2009, a total of 572 fish were reported through MDNRs ABT/Billfish Catch Card and Tagging Program. The school class, 27 to 47 in., made up the majority (45.63%) of reported landings. A total of 25 white marlin, 9 roundscale spearfish, 7 blue marlin, and 1 swordfish were reported.

Horseshoe Crab Spawning Survey

The Horseshoe Crab Spawning Survey is a cooperative monitoring effort with the Coastal Bays Program, MDNR Fisheries Service, and community volunteers at several beaches around the Ocean City Inlet. Data were collected on the temporal and spatial extent of the spawning concentrations as well as counting, sexing, documenting behavior (e.g. spawning or swimming), and measuring individual horseshoe crabs.

This year, surveys were conducted at eight locations and 21,896 horseshoe crabs were counted. In 2009, we found that there were approximately 4 male crabs available to mate for every female crab available.

Recreational Fishing

2009 was a good fishing year in on Maryland’s Atlantic Coast. Six state record species were caught this year, including a scalloped hammerhead shark, cobia, blue marlin, and golden tilefish. The golden tilefish was caught by Coastal Program Fisheries Biologist, Steve Doctor.

Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding & Research Program Summary

In 1990 the Maryland Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding and Research Program was established by and continues to be administered by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fish & Wildlife Health Program. Program biologists respond to stranded animals in the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean coastline. Federal funding has enabled our program to enhance 1) the quality, reporting, and sharing of data, including examination of carcasses and specimen collection for diagnostic screening; and 2) outreach and education by developing materials and messages for both the network and the general public regarding stranding response. Samples collected from freshly dead animals include tissues for contaminants, microbiology, histopathology, virology, genetics, and parasitology. Additionally, program biologists conduct presentations and workshops for a variety of organizations and institutions. Hundreds of investigations and examinations have been performed on a wide variety of species since 1990. With consistent response, sampling, funding, and dedicated staff, we are beginning to summarize nineteen years of stranding efforts. In the future we plan further analysis of data to examine causes of human interaction in marine mammals and sea turtles in Maryland waters. This report documents data analyzed through 2008. A summary of 2009 strandings is under analysis and a brief account of response numbers and interesting cases are included.


U.S. Protective Legislation for Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles - The Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972 are the principal guiding legislative acts governing marine mammals and sea turtles in the wild. The Department of Commerce National Marine Fisheries Service and the Department of Interior Fish and Wildlife Service are the federal agencies administering these acts. The National Park Service and the U.S. Coast Guard assist in reporting and responding to strandings.

Definition of a Stranded Animal - A stranded marine mammal or sea turtle is defined as one that is washed ashore alive or dead, entangled in fishing gear or anchored at sea, or found outside of its survival envelope. An example of the latter category is a manatee found in late fall in northern waters when these animals are normally found in only southern, warm climates.

Threats - Natural causes of strandings include disease, age (senescent or very young animals), harmful algal blooms (biotoxins), and environmental factors. Since the national standing effort is relatively newly organized, no trend information is available to document deaths due to diseases, age or environmental factors. Morbillivirus infections are the most commonly reported. 4 However, data from the past decade show an increase in reporting from deaths due to biotoxins.

Anthropogenic causes are better documented and include ship strike, fisheries interactions, gunshot, habitat degradation and detrimental ocean sound2. Network participants are required to categorize injuries due to human interaction using recently developed detailed protocols including watercraft injuries.5 This standardized method of reporting allows NMFS to now begin to quantify impacts to protected species. Ocean noise is an increasing threat being studied by marine mammal scientists. Less is known about sound effects on sea turtles.

U. S. Marine Animal Health and Stranding Response Program - In 1992, the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Act (Public Law 102-587) was enacted and became Title IV of the MMPA. In order to implement the Act, the United States Department of Commerce National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) developed the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program (MMHSRP). The program has since expanded to include sea turtles and is now referred to as the U. S. Marine Animal Health and Stranding Response Program.

State and Regional Stranding Network Organizations - The marine mammal and sea turtle stranding networks are a function of five U.S. regions: Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, Southwest, and Alaska (Figure 1).3 As part of their agreement with the federal government, network members are required to collect Level A data, consisting of species name, sex, length, location, and evidence of human interaction. They are encouraged to collect further health and scientific information (Maryland also collects Levels B, C – including necropsy and diagnostic information). Information gathered by the stranding networks contributes to our knowledge of strandings attributed to natural causes, fisheries interaction and entanglement, vessel collision, pollution, and disease. Stranding networks are the backbone of the national program and also work cooperatively with universities to supply tissues research.


Historical Efforts
The Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History Division of Mammals recorded marine mammal strandings in Maryland prior to the creation of the stranding network. Records beginning in 1833 indicate an average of 4.4 marine mammals per year were reported or collected with a peak in 1987 of 33 animals.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has maintained a database of sea turtle strandings for several decades. Prior to the creation of the stranding network in Maryland, no active sea turtle stranding response existed. Documentation of turtles that were occasionally reported in Maryland was informal, infrequent and loosely maintained by NMFS along with the State of Virginia and with some reporting from the National Parks Service.

Current Efforts
We are fortunate to work closely with Natural Resources Police for reporting sightings or strandings in MD through the toll-free 24/7 call center: 1-800-628-9944. Calls are forwarded to the appropriate agency – MD DNR receives reports of dead stranded animals and the National Aquarium gets sightings of live animals.

Marine Mammals. Since MD DNR began stranding response in 1990, 293. marine mammals have been documented with a maximum of 27 cases in 1999 and an average of 14.6 per year. Twenty 22 species of marine mammals are represented with bottlenose dolphins(Tursiops truncatus) - the most common odontocete, humpback whales (Megaptera novaengliae) - the most common mysticete, and harp seals - the most common phocid (Figure 2 ).

Sea Turtles. To date four species of sea turtles have been documented in Maryland waters however, the most commonly stranded sea turtle is the loggerhead (Caretta caretta) (Figure 4). Since the stranding program began in late 1990, no sea turtle strandings were recorded until 1991. A total of 460 turtles have been documented and examined with complete necropsy examinations being conducted on most turtles.

Geographic and Temporal Trends
Maryland is in a unique position on the East Coast of the United States. We experience a variety of strandings that include species common to the northeast and southeast regions. In the mid-Atlantic region bottlenose dolphins strand most frequently on our coasts in the summer months, harbor porpoise in late winter and early spring, and large whales year round. Sea turtles are found in Maryland waters most commonly from May through October.More marine mammals and sea turtles strand on our coastal beaches than in the Chesapeake Bay (Figures 3 and 5).

Additional Concerns
Since marine animals harbor a variety of potentially zoonotic pathogens, our primary concern is for our stranding biologists and their safety. Brucellosis is a known bacterial human disease found in marine mammals while salmonellosis and mycobacteriosis are more commonly found in sea turtles. Great care is taken to protect staff members by providing training and biosecurity supplies and equipment when responding to strandings.

2009 Highlights

Since our stranding network began in the fall of 1990 dedicated staff members have improved upon methods and efforts of previous stranding personnel. Federal grant funding has allowed us to enhance our capabilities including purchasing field and laboratory equipment to outfit our stranding truck and lab. In 2009 fifteen marine mammals stranded including harbor and harp seals, two dolphin species, harbor porpoise, a rare beaked whale, and a humpback whale. Fish & Wildlife Health Program staff also assisted adjacent states with stranding response for a 41 ft. Sei whale.

Twenty-six sea turtles were documented in 2009 including cold stunned turtles found in the Chester River in January. Many turtles were decomposed, however, examinations were conducted on all turtles . In cases with a determined cause, human interaction (boat strike) was the most reported cause of death.

In addition to stranding response our staff conducted outreach to the local community at Oxford Day, Tidewater Farm Club, and mentored 3 Easton High School students in an Advance Biology project on Marine Mammals and Detrimental Sound in the Ocean. An additional 3 seasonal students were part of the FWHP and assisted in response. Professional presentations were given at the Northeast Stranding Conference, Wildlife Disease Association, International Association of Aquatic Animal Medicine, and the Third U.S- Russia Bilateral Conference.

Additionally, program staff work closely with the National Aquarium in live animal response and transport to Baltimore.


Marine mammal and sea turtle conservation involves cooperation among the Federal and state agencies, universities, and private organizations. The federal agencies rely on input from states and constituents on the regulation and legislation of these national resources. The State of Maryland participates on national task forces and science groups with other states to decrease impacts on protected species from human interactions (Take Reduction Teams for Large Whales, Bottlenose Dolphins and Harbor Porpoise). Our conservation program will continue to conduct outreach and develop partnerships within MD DNR as well as with other states and agencies as we look to improving the future of endangered and threatened species in our state, regionally and nationally.

TO REPORT SIGHTINGS OR STRANDINGS call the MD DNR 24/7 Call Center: 1-800-628-9944. FOR MORE INFORMATION: Please visit our website:

Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Fisheries Service 2009 Maryland Volunteer Angler Summer Flounder Survey Summary

  • 67 anglers reported
  • 4,757 anglers fished
  • Most were from MD, PA, DE
  • 19% belonged to an organization
    THE FISH...
  • 10,939 fish reported caught
  • 5,875 fish measured
  • Average length: 13.6 inches
  • The length distribution of the overall summer flounder catch has been steady for the past 8 years (2002-2009).
    THE TRIPS...
  • 580 trips reported: 561 trips along the Atlantic Coast (97%), 19 trips in the Chesapeake Bay (3%).
  • 38 skunked trips: 37 Atlantic coast (7%), 1 Chesapeake Bay (5%).
  • Calculate population length distribution;
  • Perform creel (minimum size) analysis;
  • And guide the management approach for Atlantic and Chesapeake Bay populations.
    Your participation in this survey is VERY important to summer flounder management along the East Coast. In addition to Maryland DNR, neighboring states of Delaware and Virginia have used these data to guide their management decisions for establishing creel, minimum size, and season limits. The success of this survey resulted in other states implementing a similar program.
    For 2010, please continue to:
  • encourage others to participate, including friends fishing the Chesapeake Bay where the average number of trips for the past few years is 30;
  • measure to the nearest ¼ inch (very important for determining minimum size limits);
  • continue to report trips where summer flounder were targeted but none were caught;
  • only include one trip per form.