By Doug Alderson, Apalachicola Riverkeeper Outreach & Advocacy Director
Except for what an angler might pull up on their line, the many fish species found in sloughs off the Apalachicola River remain a mystery to most people. So, as part of Apalachicola Riverkeeper’s Slough Restoration Project, a fish survey is being done to determine species composition before restoration work begins. A similar survey will be done after restoration to compare the results. The expectation is that larger fish may be found in the slough once debris and sand is removed at the slough’s mouth.
I was able to join the group as they worked seine nets in Douglas Slough and was amazed at what lay beneath the water’s surface. As the crew of four waded sometimes neck-deep in muddy water, pulling the seine as another member splashed water towards the net to chase back fish trying to escape, I craned my neck with the others to see what was brought forth. There were mostly small fish, minnows as we simply called them when I was young, but each had a name and a story. They included: blackbanded darter, blacktailed shiner, weed shiner, eastern mosquitofish, brook silverside, taillight shiner, spotted sunfish and the small flounder-like hogchoker.
Hogchokers are born in salt or brackish waters around Apalachicola Bay. The juveniles make their way up the river to live along the river and in sloughs. As they mature, they return to brackish or salt water to reproduce. The hogchokers found in Douglas Slough were only about an inch long, but a mature hogchoker is several inches long. The name is believed to have come about when farmers fed the fish to their hogs and the hogs often choked on them. A baby loggerhead musk turtle was also found. Loggerhead musk turtles like to climb logs and branches along sloughs such as Douglas.
The crew first worked near the mouth of Douglas Slough before accessing the middle part of the slough from the bottom. At one point, we watched a mature water moccasin climb the bank along a cypress trunk. The crew spoke glowingly about its size and appearance. Then they waded in waist deep for more seine work. Perhaps this is what separates biologists from most other folks!
The crew on that day consisted of Worth Pugh of the University of Alabama, Locke Revells of Appalachian State University, Dan Akin of Auburn, David Werneke, Fish collection manager of the Auburn Museum of Natural History, and Dan Tonsmeire, Apalachicola Riverkeeper Emeritus and consultant on the project. A stellar crew indeed! We also met a couple of friendly local folks who enjoy Douglas Slough for fishing and hunting, including former Gulf County Commissioner Carmen McLemore, who chatted with us for a spell. I gained a better appreciation for the small john boats that navigate these sloughs and even jump over logs, as McLemore demonstrated for us. I look forward to my next visit to the biologically rich network of sloughs along the Apalachicola River.
Watch the video of crew members seining for fish in Douglas Slough.
More on the connectivity of the river and floodplain Apalachicola Ecosystem Distress Signals