Life on the Edges: Counting Shoreline Creatures

Volunteers work with a seine net to survey what lies along the shoreline of the Severn River.
Photo: Ted Delaplaine.

By Matthew Liptak

A healthy shoreline is home to abundant fish and wildlife. Learning what creatures live there is the goal of a new program by the Severn River Association.

“What you get on shore is so much more exotic,” said Shoreline Census Project creator and SRA board member Jeff Schomig. “A lot of people don’t realize how much life there is on the river.”

A new program developed by SRA brings residents to the shoreline to discover and study all of the creatures in the river’s shallows. Participants learn to appreciate how those creatures depend on the land-water interface to survive.

Schomig developed the pilot project in the Ben Oaks and Round Bay communities last year with his son Jason. Now the full program is launching and involves more neighborhoods, from the source of the Severn to its mouth.

Schomig, who grew up on the river, was looking for a way to get his own teenaged son in touch with the natural world just beyond their front door. “He really likes it,” he said. “That was a way to get him outdoors enjoying the river, and (becoming) aware of what happens on the river and right next to it.”

“I like being on the water,” son Jason writes in an email. “I’ve grown up by the water and I’ve been fishing and boating on the Severn River since I was little. That’s one of my favorite parts of my life. I hope to always live near the water.”

Some of the species that have already been netted (and returned to the water) include mummichog, bull minnows, Atlantic silversides, pipefish, gobies, blennies, largemouth bass, mosquito fish and even seahorses.

The silversides in particular are a good harbinger for the Severn. “If you’re seeing silversides it probably tells you, at least, that your water quality isn’t terrible,” Schomig says. “Gobies and blennies can be good indicators, too, because they tend to congregate near oyster reefs.”

Surprisingly, the program has not caught any white perch yet. “We’re learning things about our river that the Department of Natural Resources didn’t know,” says Schomig. “A goal is to understand how species might vary through the year based on conditions and water quality.”

The process is straightforward. Participants drag a 12-by-4 foot seine net across the river bottom, and then drag it to shore to observe and record the catch. Then the animals are returned to the water. It’s an up-close look at why we need to keep waterways healthy and full of life.

“I think people my age are a lot more focused on the environment than past generations because we’re the ones that will have to live with the consequences of climate change and the damage we’ve done,” Jason wrote.

The SRA says this environmental education program has received quite a bit of interest from neighborhoods and hope to expand it even further next year.

If your community is interested, email [email protected] and put “Seine Net” in the subject line.