2007-10-04 / News

Local waters teeming with juvenile tropical fish species

By Adrienne Downing

Divers from the New England Aquarium Dive Club search for tropical fish at Ft. Wetherill. The divers help rescue the fish before they die from cold water temperatures. Photo by Adrienne Downing Divers from the New England Aquarium Dive Club search for tropical fish at Ft. Wetherill. The divers help rescue the fish before they die from cold water temperatures. Photo by Adrienne Downing Divers from the New England Aquarium Dive Club performed a tropical fish rescue mission at Ft. Wetherill on Sunday afternoon.

"I just wish someone would tell the fish that is what we are doing," past president, Jean Stefanik, said. "They can be difficult to catch."

The fish eggs are laid in the Florida and Caribbean areas, carried by the gulf stream on seaweed and deposited along the Rhode Island coastline. After hatching, the fish seek shelter in the warmer waters of Narragansett Bay, and particularly among the rocks and cliffs at Ft. Wetherill.

The eggs typically hatch in mid-to-late August, and if the fish are left in the water they will die around the end of October or early November.

"They are, after all, tropical fish, so they can't survive in the water temperature in New England after it turns cold," Stefanik said.

The dive club tries to rescue as many of the juvenile fish as they can and then donates them to different aquariums and private tank owners.

Aquariums do not always have room for all of the fish that are caught, so Stefanik said Jamestown residents are welcome to adopt some of the fish.

"We would love to have people come down and give the fish a home or put them in a display tank somewhere," she said. "It would be great if we could establish that kind of relationship with a school or people in the community who can take the fish."

Divers are not just finding one or two types of fish, either. "There are about 30 or 40 varieties of fish that we see. Some are more common and easier to catch than others," Stefanik said. "The different types of butterfly fish are the most common, but we have even seen a barracuda." The group caught a lionfish last year, the first catch of its kind in New England.

Snorkelers and children also got in on the fun. "It really is a family event. Because the shallow water is warmer, there are many fish around the edges so even those without scuba gear can see many fish," Al Bozza, programs director for the club, said.

Bozza said he uses the opportunity to educate the children about the fish.

"We get out a seine net and drag along the shore. I show them which ones are the common fish and which are the tropical fish," Bozza said.

Approximately 200 people participated in the dive, a record number of people according to Bozza.

"We have been doing this for about 25 years, and last year we decided to ask some different dive shops and dive clubs if they would be interested. It was amazing how many people didn't know about this area," Bozza said. "So we put the word out and we got about 70 people last year on a bad weather day. This year we sent it out again and we had 175 people register and some came who had not registered."

Although Sunday saw the largest gathering of divers this fall because the group held their picnic in conjunction with the dive, there are divers from the club who dive every weekend between mid-August and early November. Anyone interested in adopting a fish may contact the club through their Web site, www.neadc.org, or visit the boat ramp area in lower Fort Wetherill on the weekends to get the fish.

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