For much of February and into March, the Chesapeake Bay was covered with ice. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ four ice-breakers were in high demand, working in the Severn River, Tangier Sound, the Kent Narrows area and the mid-Bay areas around the Choptank River.For the most part, the fish that stay in the Bay in winter are cold adapted fish, and survive temperatures down to freezing just fine if the water cools slowly, which it does most of the time. A quick drop in temperatures can harm even these fish, if they can't, or don't move to avoid it. This is called "cold shock" and is well known.
Commercial fishermen struggled. Tangier and Smith island were iced in for days. One waterman lost his boat trying to oyster in Rock Hall. Many watermen lost income in a year when it matters a lot - oysters are at $50 a bushel, nearly twice the price two years ago.
But one group that likely hasn’t struggled? The fish. Despite appearances to the contrary, the fish survive in these frigid waters. They’ve been doing it for centuries.
‘This is something that has happened in the past. They endure it. They can tolerate it,” said Harry Hornick, fisheries biologist with the Department of Natural Resources. “We have had years with a lot more ice. I honestly don’t think ice is hurting the fish.”
Hornick said that, when he and his staff sample nets in November, the fish thrive even in cold temperatures.
Last winter, cold shock killed a large number of Speckled Trout down in Virginia and the Carolinas, and the speck fishing in the Bay this last summer suffered as a result.
The Bay also hosts a number of transient warm or tropical water fish in the warm months, Red Drum, Norfolk Spot, Atlantic Croaker, Blue Fish, who time their migrations to arrive in warmer water, and they too could be susceptible to unseasonable cold.