Spatial and temporal patterns in the distribution and feeding habits of Morone saxatilis in marsh creeks of Delaware Bay, USA
Delaware River and Bay Morone saxatilis (Walbaum), striped bass, have recently undergone a dramatic recovery. Here, we examine spatio-temporal patterns in the distribution and food habits of striped bass in marsh creeks in the estuary (salinity range 1–20 psu), 1996–2000. Sampling occurred monthly, April through November, with otter trawls (4.9 m, 6 mm mesh, n = 6760) and weirs (intertidal block nets, 6 mm mesh, n = 647) at eight sites. Young-of-the-year (YOY) fish were generally more than 10 times more abundant at oligohaline sites, although they were abundant at mesohaline sites in 1996, the lowest salinity year. Small striped bass (<100 mm) in creeks relied on mysids and other crustaceans and became more piscivorous with size. Overall, they consumed 46% by weight fish, of which 52% were mummichog, Fundulus heteroclitus (L.), and 18% were YOY Atlantic croaker, Micropogonias undulatus (L.), prey types which are not typical in most food habits studies and are indicative of feeding in marsh creeks. These data suggest that young striped bass are an abundant component of Delaware Bay marsh creek fauna and may play an important role in trophic relays within this system.