New England fish believed to be spotted feeding in Nova Scotia's Clyde River
Menhaden, also known as pogies or bunkers, are harvested in other places for fertilizer, oil
Reports of large schools of an unusual fish in Nova Scotia's Clyde River are piquing the curiosity of the community.
But an expert from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said it's hard to know what's behind the reported sightings of menhaden, known colloquially as pogies, and what their arrival possibly means.
"Fish that are outside the norm are always notable," said Rod Bradford, an aquatic biologist who specializes in fish that switch between fresh and salt water for breeding and feeding.
"It just becomes a bit of a mug's game to try to interpret it in the context of environmental processes."
Barry Harwood of Arcadia, N.S., has golfed at the River Hills Golf and Country Club in southwestern Nova Scotia for over three decades.
The Clyde River runs the length of the golf course's first fairway, where the river meets the salty water of Lyles Bay.
Harwood had never seen a commotion in the water like he saw on July 7 from the second tee.
"Just the water churning up ... It was gone churning up a foot high at least. And it's a big area and not just one area, it was spread over the whole of the river in different areas," he said.
"I couldn't see what it was. It had to be a smaller fish, I'd have thought, the way it was churning ... There were a lot of cormorants around on the rocks."
Pogies on parade?
Greg Sears is secretary of the Shelburne County Fish and Game Association.
He said he's heard talk of schools of pogies in the Clyde River this summer, plus read accounts on Facebook.
It's something Sears, 68, has never seen before.
"Not in my generation, there hasn't been a history of pogies in this area. They're a New England fish ... They're exported here frozen as lobster bait years ago, but nobody even brings them back for that anymore," he said.
"Most people are attributing it to warm water, global warming, and fish moving further east."
Rodney Ross, a commercial fisherman from Cape Sable Island, said he's also heard the rumours of pogies or shad in the area.
He wonders if warmer waters could be encouraging new arrivals.
"The last five or six years, I'd say we're a month ahead of where we used to be years ago. Everything comes in earlier, even the weather," said Ross.
Menhaden is a member of the herring family, said Bradford. They are also called mossbunkers, or simply bunkers.
He said the oily fish are filter feeders, but are harvested mainly for fish oil and fertilizer.
"They are unbelievably bony," he said. "About one-third of their body is head ... I'm not sure that it would be the type of meal that you would want to go out and fillet or try to prepare."
Pogies spotted along Bay of Fundy
Bradford said though pogies are common in waters off New England, he's encountered them on the shores of the Bay of Fundy.
"I know that they're being encountered up in the Minas Basin by other investigators right now. So they're, you know, likely more common this year than is usual," he said.
But this is the first time he's heard of pogies beyond the Bay of Fundy.
That could be due to water temperatures, or simply that they've been extra successful reproducing.
"They tend to disperse more widely when they are abundant. And it could be that temperatures are more favourable for a northern range extension this summer," he said.
Bradford said connecting the arrival of pogies to climate change would be a stretch because there's not enough baseline data to determine what is natural variation in population and range.
And while Bradford can't confirm the presence of pogies in the Clyde River without pictures or a specimen, he said the churning water reported by Harwood sounds like feeding behaviour.
"That's a well-known behaviour for them. When they are in abundance, they do school, and they have been known to break the surface of the water while feeding and swimming rapidly," he said.
Bradford said DFO is always interested in public reports of unusual fish in Maritime waters.
He said non-native fish caught around Nova Scotia can be carried in by summer storms and survive in the warmer waters, but die off with the arrival of winter.
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