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CONTENTS
Executive Summary
Introduction
Methods
Results
Conclusions and Recommendations
Acknowledgments
References Cited

NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NE-121

Habitat Use and Requirements of Important Fish Species Inhabiting the Hudson River Estuary: Availability of Information

Anne W. Everly1,2 and John Boreman1,3
1UMass/NOAA Cooperative Marine Education and Research Prog., P.O. Box 30820, Amherst, MA 01003-0820
2
Current Address: New England Aquarium, Central Wharf, Boston, MA 02110-3399
3
Current Address: National Marine Fisheries Serv., 166 Water St., Woods Hole, MA 02543-1026

Web version posted April 9, 2002

Citation: Everly AW, Boreman J. 1999. Habitat Use and Requirements of Important Fish Species Inhabiting the Hudson River Estuary: Availability of Information. NOAA Tech Memo NMFS NE 121; 75 p.

Information Quality Act Compliance: In accordance with section 515 of Public Law 106-554, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center completed both technical and policy reviews for this report. These predissemination reviews are on file at the NEFSC Editorial Office.

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The objective of our project was to determine the extent and availability of information that is adequate for: 1) assessing basic habitat requirements of selected fishery resources of the Hudson River estuary; 2) relating those requirements to habitat availability in that estuary; and 3) developing priorities for projects that will enhance, restore, or maintain productivity of those resources. We used a three-step process to determine if sufficient information is available on habitat requirements of selected fish species. First, we selected 11 fish species that are considered important and representative of the fish community in the Hudson River estuary. Second, we examined alternative definitions of habitat and selected one for evaluating the role of habitat in the life history strategies of the 11 species. Third, we assessed the availability of information necessary to evaluate habitat requirements and use in the Hudson River estuary for each of the 11 species.

We assembled a list of close to 1,000 publications up to 1995 containing information that may be relevant to habitat requirements and use by the selected fish species inhabiting the Hudson River estuary, then sorted those publications by species and life stage. To determine the amount of information that would likely be available for a full-scale study of habitat use by the 11 selected species, we made two evaluations of the collected publications: 1) the availability of published information on site-specific distribution within the Hudson River estuary of each life stage (i.e., spawning, egg, larva, juvenile, subadult, and adult) for each selected species; and 2) the availability of published information on habitat requirements of each life stage for each selected species. We evaluated the two types of information separately because evaluations of habitat requirements and use usually begin by locating the organisms within the water body, then determining why they are there; locational information is usually much easier to obtain, as was apparent in our study.

We conclude that the available information is insufficient to conduct a full-scale, detailed study of the importance of Hudson River habitats to the selected fish species. Although our evaluation of the available information suggests that little would be gained from a full-scale study, we do not recommend total abandonment of the project; our review of the literature revealed a wealth of information on a number of areas related to the natural history of the Hudson River estuary and the alteration of the estuary through human activities.

We suggest that the next step towards identifying important habitats for Hudson River fishes would be to begin assembling the data on life stage distributions and habitats of the Hudson River estuary into a geographic-based information system (GIS). By using GIS, gaps in the information base will become more clear, and priorities for collection of additional information will become more evident. Because of the immensity of this task, no single governmental or nongovernmental organization should be expected to undertake such a project for the Hudson watershed singlehandedly -- a cooperative effort among federal, state, and local agencies is needed where all parties contribute and all parties benefit.


INTRODUCTION

Since 1963, the Hudson River estuary has been the focus of one of the most ambitious environmental research and assessment programs ever performed (Barnthouse et al. 1988), and nowhere has the conflict between society and the environment been so intense (Smith 1988). The estuary supports major commercial and recreational fisheries, serves as a major transportation corridor, and is surrounded by one of the most densely populated metropolitan areas in North America (Figure 1). In spite of efforts by government agencies and nongovernment organizations to protect the fishery resources of the river, threats -- including sediment-laden contaminants, municipal and industrial water withdrawals and discharges, channel dredging, and nonpoint-source runoff -- continue in this estuarine habitat.

Before major programs are initiated to protect, enhance, and restore the fishery resources of the Hudson River estuary through habitat improvements, an understanding is needed of the relationship between habitat characteristics of the estuary and basic habitat requirements of the fishery resources, as recommended in the "Habitat Research Plan of the National Marine Fisheries Service" (Thayer et al. 1996). Information used to gain that understanding also needs to be in a form that is useful in determining: 1) the types of habitat restoration projects that are feasible, and 2) the short-term and long-term benefits of these projects. However, establishing baseline habitat requirements for fishery resources of the Hudson River estuary is not as straightforward as it may seem. In some instances, the habitat requirements of a prey species may be the important factor in productivity of a fishery resource; for example, productivity of bluefish may depend on the abundance of bay anchovy in the estuary. Furthermore, the amount of available habitat may be limited more by the abundance of competitor species than by the spatial scale of the habitat itself. Thus, determining linkages between habitat characteristics and fishery resource productivity requires an appreciation for, and understanding of, the complexities of interactions among members of the fish community, specifically among predators, competitors, and prey during all life stages present in the system.

By 1981, an estimated $40-50 million had been spent on basic fisheries research in the Hudson River (Smith 1988), and $3-4 million has been spent per year since then on research and monitoring by the Hudson River utilities and the Hudson River Foundation. Because of these enormous expenditures, a dogma exists within the environmental community that sufficient data now exist for informed management of the Hudson River resources and their habitats. This is simply not the case, as evidenced in recent criticism of the draft environmental impact statement prepared by the Hudson River utilities (ESSA Technologies, Ltd., and Deriso 1994).

Much of the information gathered on Hudson River fishes has been specifically for evaluating impacts of power plant operations (see Barnthouse et al. 1984). Habitat-related studies in the Hudson River estuary have been chiefly site-specific or species-specific, such as the work being performed by the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook on the effects of cadmium-contaminated sediments on the aquatic fauna at Foundry Cove (Knutson et al. 1987), or by the Institute for Ecosystem Studies on the invasion and subsequent distribution of zebra mussels in the upper estuary (Strayer et al. 1994). No program has been undertaken to define habitat use and habitat requirements of Hudson River fishes on an estuary-wide basis; this is a fundamental void that needs to be filled for development of remedial actions and restoration plans for habitats.

The objective of our project was to determine the extent and availability of information that is adequate for: 1) assessing basic habitat requirements of selected fishery resources of the Hudson River estuary; 2) relating those requirements to habitat availability in that estuary; and 3) developing priorities for projects that will enhance, restore, or maintain productivity of those resources.


METHODS

Two approaches could be used, either independently or jointly, as first-order approximations to understand the linkage between habitat requirements and the well-being of fishery resources. One approach would be to determine the minimum habitat requirements necessary to support selected fishery resources, and then to map areas where any one or a combination of these factors would exclude use by the selected resources. A tool to accomplish this task would be a geographic-based information system (GIS). A second approach would be to determine the historical extent of habitat use in the estuary by selected fishery resources, compare to the current extent, and determine what factors might be causing any differences. Both approaches are data hungry, requiring an extensive amount of information from field collections and controlled laboratory experiments. The extent to which the data exist and are available will determine success of either approach in assessing habitat requirements and, ultimately, in setting priorities for habitat restoration projects in the estuary.

We used a three-step process to determine if sufficient information is available on habitat requirements of selected fish species. First, we selected 11 fish species that are considered important and representative of the fish community in the Hudson River estuary. Second, we examined alternative definitions of habitat and selected one for evaluating the role of habitat in the life history strategies of those 11 species. Third, we assessed the availability of information necessary to evaluate habitat requirements and use in the Hudson River estuary for each of the 11 species.

SELECTION OF SPECIES

The Hudson River estuary extends for 243 km from the Battery on Manhattan Island north to the Troy Dam (Cooper et al. 1988), and is tidal over its entire length, with the greatest tidal amplitudes occurring at both ends. The magnitude of tidal flow within the estuary is 10-100 times greater than the freshwater inflows, causing a reversal in the current pattern twice each day (Busby 1966, cited in Cooper et al. 1988). The estuary is generally considered freshwater (<0.3‰) above river kilometer (Rkm) 80 to 100, which may extend to Rkm 40 during high inflow periods (spring and fall). The oligohaline zone (0.3-5‰) extends from Rkm 80 to 40, but may reach Rkm 19, and the mesohaline zone (5-18‰) generally occurs from Rkm 45 into New York Harbor (Cooper et al. 1988; Haley 1999).

A total of 140 species of fish have been collected within the Hudson River estuary, a listing of which by river region can be found in Beebe and Savidge (1988, Table 6). Of the 140 species, 50 have been found in all three salinity zones of the estuary, and two species have been found only in the polyhaline zone (Yonkers and Tappan Zee sampling regions, Figure 2). The 140 fish species also embody a variety of life history strategies, which can largely be described by four patterns: anadromous (spawning and nursery areas in freshwater, oligohaline, and/or mesohaline zones of the Hudson River estuary, most of adult life in the marine environment); freshwater-oligohaline nonmigratory (entire life cycle in freshwater and/or oligohaline zones); euryhaline nonmigratory (entire life cycle within the Hudson River, but across all salinity zones); and oceanic/coastal spawners (spawning in highest salinity zone of the Hudson River estuary and surrounding coastal waters, early life stages enter lower salinity zones of the estuary). Anadromous can be further subdivided into the group of species that spawns in the tributaries -- if not also the river proper -- of the Hudson River estuary, and the group that spawns exclusively in the river proper. We chose 11 fish species that represent the four life history strategies (Table 1), and that are also important to the Hudson River estuary economically or ecologically. Synopses of the life histories of the 11 selected species are presented in Appendix A.

HABITAT DEFINITION

The term "habitat" needs to be defined before assessing the availability of information related to habitat use by important fish species inhabiting the Hudson River estuary. We thoroughly reviewed definitions of habitat that have appeared in the literature (Odum 1971; Partridge 1978; Pimm and Rosenzweig 1981; Rosenzweig 1981, 1991; Van Horne 1983; Boesch and Turner 1984; Rosenzweig and Abramsky 1985; Bell and Westoby 1986; Brown and Rosenzweig 1986; Bell et al. 1987; CBLRFT 1987; Morris 1987a,b; McIvor and Odum 1988; Govoni et al. 1989; Sogard and Able 1991; Peters and Cross 1992; Hoss and Thayer 1993; Able and Kaiser 1994). We subsequently settled on one that seems to be most appropriate for Hudson River estuary fishes: Habitat is that part of the environment required for the survival (i.e., survival to successful reproduction) of individuals of a species, consisting of biological and nonbiological parameters which differ among species, as well as among life stages within a species, and which are affected either seasonally or change as a result of other environmental factors.

ASSESSMENT OF INFORMATION AVAILABILITY

Given our working definition of habitat, we assembled information that might be used to determine the importance of habitats in the Hudson River estuary to the 11 selected fish species. We surveyed the published and unpublished (gray) literature ("publications") available through agencies and organizations involved with research on Hudson River resources. We also contacted a number of investigators and organizations that might possess unpublished information, such as databases and specimen collections, that also might be relevant (Appendix B).

We used a software package for database retrieval called FileMaker Pro Unlimited® (available in Windows and MacIntosh versions from FileMaker, Inc., 5201 Patrick Henry Dr., P.O. Box 58168, Santa Clara, CA 95054-8168) to organize the publications in a manner that allowed us to search those publications. The publications could be searched by the following: author, year, title, report type, publisher, geography, fish species, and/or keyword(s). This database is available for public access and use. See Appendix C ("Users Guide to the Database") of this report for the several formats of the database which have been prepared for public access and use.


RESULTS

We assembled a list of close to 1,000 publications containing information that may be relevant to habitat requirements and use by the selected fish species inhabiting the Hudson River estuary (Appendix D), then sorted those publications by species and life stage. Approximately 120 of the publications are available from us in hard copy. Unpublished materials are also available through personal, agency, and nongovernmental organization contacts. (See the "Remarks" column in Appendix B.)

To determine the amount of information that would likely be available for a full-scale study of habitat use by the 11 selected species, we made two evaluations of the collected publications: 1) the availability of published information on site-specific distribution within the Hudson River estuary of each life stage (i.e., spawning, egg, larva, juvenile, subadult, adult) for each selected species (Table 2); and 2) the availability of published information on habitat requirements of each life stage for each selected species (Table 3). Habitat requirements information includes tolerances and preferences for environmental parameters (salinity, temperature, turbidity, depth, vegetation, bottom type, etc.) and trophic inter-relationships. We evaluated the two types of information separately because evaluations of habitat requirements usually begin by locating the organisms within the water body, then determining why they are there; locational information is usually much easier to obtain, as was apparent in our study. For each life stage of each species, we noted whether information on distribution or habitat requirements is: 1) available for the Hudson River population (A in Table 2 and Table 3); 2) available for the Hudson River population, but limited either geographically or temporally (Al); 3) not available for the Hudson River population, but available for a population of the species in a neighboring system (N); 4) unavailable, but attainable within 3 yr assuming adequate funding (Ua); 5) unavailable and would not be attainable within 3 yr even if funding were adequate (Uu); or 6) inapplicable because the life stage is not present in the Hudson River estuary (X). The evaluations contained in Table 2 and Table 3 are based on our judgments; others may draw different conclusions after reviewing the publications contained in the database.

The most complete information on distribution of the 11 selected species in the Hudson River estuary is for the planktonic life stages (egg and larva) of alewife, American shad, Atlantic tomcod, blueback herring, and striped bass. This result is not surprising, since all 11 selected species, except the largemouth bass, have been targeted for collection in the riverwide surveys conducted by the utility companies as part of their impact assessment programs. Although the utilities' surveys covered the entire estuary over a number of years, the spatial resolution of the data is limited to the 12 regions designated by the survey design (Figure 2). Their surveys also varied in coverage of depth zones.

The distribution of spawners, eggs, and larvae of the largemouth bass has been well documented in a special study of the species conducted by David Green and his coworkers (e.g., see Nack and Cook 1987; Hopkins and Green 1988; Green et al. 1988, 1989; Nack et al. 1993). Information on the distributions of other life stages of largemouth bass and on Hudson River populations of the other species is also generally available, although limited geographically or temporally.

Information on habitat requirements for the 11 selected species is much more limited than information on their distributions. For striped bass, white perch, bay anchovy, and American shad, substantial information exists on habitat requirements in neighboring systems, primarily Chesapeake Bay, that may be transferrable to the Hudson River estuary. Transferring habitat requirements information among estuarine systems, however, may not withstand the scrutiny of litigation. Generally, information on habitat requirements is unavailable for most species, but attainable within the short-term (3 yr or so) if sufficient funding is available to test the species' preference or tolerance for key habitat variables. The variables may include, depending on the species and life stage, water temperature, salinity, conductivity, sediment type, vegetation or other shelter, and turbidity. We are assuming that the individual life stages need to be tested under controlled conditions, and recognize that techniques for rearing and maintaining the fish for purposes of experimentation have not yet been developed for all life stages.


CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Based on our assembly of close to 1,000 publications, and on our contacts with a number of individuals, agencies, and nongovernmental organizations involved with collection of information on Hudson River fishes, we conclude that the available information is insufficient to conduct a full-scale, detailed study of the importance of Hudson River habitats to the selected fish species. If a full-scale study proceeds, the following findings are likely:

  1. Distributions will be available for the egg through juvenile life stages of most of the 11 species, but the spatial resolution of the distributions will not be adequate for evaluating use of specific areas within the estuary.
  2. Few studies have been conducted on the distributions of subadult and adult life stages within and adjacent to the estuary, in and out of spawning season. The distributions will have to be based on anecdotal information from recreational and commercial harvesters, and on results of studies presently being planned or conducted on striped bass, American shad, the sturgeons, and bay anchovy.
  3. Specific habitat requirements related to key environmental variables will be largely unknown for the Hudson River populations of the 11 species. Studies in other systems (Chesapeake Bay, Delaware River, and Connecticut River) may provide some information, but transferability of the information from the neighboring systems to the Hudson River estuary will be suspect. Efforts should be made to compare extant data among these systems to determine transferability.
  4. Tributaries to the Hudson River estuary probably serve a more important role in the life history of the eleven fish species than previously thought.
  5. Most life stages of the eleven fish species are probably not associated with a specific habitat, such as cobble bottom or mussel bed, but are at the mercy of freshwater discharge and tidally-driven circulation in the estuary. For planktonic life stages, such as eggs and larvae of striped bass, salinity, temperature patterns, and turbidity may be more important to survival than substrate or vegetation.

Although our evaluation of the available information suggests that little would be gained from a full-scale study, we do not recommend total abandonment of the project. Our review of the literature revealed a wealth of information on a number of areas related to the natural history of the Hudson River estuary and on the alteration of the estuary through human activities; some of the information has already been synthesized in literature reviews and atlases. However, such syntheses have limited utility. Experience has shown that the efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA related to coastal wetlands mapping and estuarine inventories do not meet needs when attempts are made to use their information on a site-by-site basis, which is where both agencies expend most of their resource-advising efforts. This concern is especially critical as federal and state agencies move towards ecosystem-level management of aquatic and terrestrial systems.

We suggest that the next step towards identifying important habitats for Hudson River fishes would be to begin assembling data on life stage distributions and habitats of the Hudson River estuary into a GIS. By using GIS, gaps in the information base will become more clear, and priorities for collection of additional information will become more evident. The GIS approach retains flexibility in its use and analysis, addresses the needs of ecosystem-level management, and takes advantage of new and developing technologies as recommended in the "Habitat

Research Plan of the National Marine Fisheries Service" (Thayer et al. 1996). Giles and Nielsen (1992) give examples of how GIS can be used in watershed research and management:

For a system as large and complex as the Hudson River estuary, both in terms of its physical attributes and the resource management system that oversees it, more than the current piecemeal approach to identifying resource distributions and habitat use is necessary. A GIS for the Hudson River estuary should contain the following dataset layers at a minimum:

Because of the immensity of this task, no single governmental or nongovernmental organization should be expected to undertake such a project for the Hudson watershed single-handedly -- a cooperative effort among federal, state, and local agencies is needed where all parties contribute and all parties benefit.

Concurrent with development of the GIS database, we recommend initiation of studies on life stages of the selected fish species that would be expected to associate with key habitat variables such as bottom type, vegetation, structures, circulation patterns (eddies, plumes, etc.), and geomorphological characteristics (wetlands, tributaries, etc.). Information generated from these studies would be immediately useful in planning habitat restoration programs. We recommend placing initial focus of the studies on the juvenile, post-planktonic life stages of the 11 selected species, examining the importance of shore zones, shelter created by vegetation or structure, and tributaries and their outfalls. We speculate that it is the juvenile life stage that is probably the least tolerant of habitat alteration and loss in the Hudson River estuary.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

We thank all of the people listed in Appendix B for helping us locate information pertaining to the fish resources of the Hudson River. In particular, we thank Hayes Batten, Nancy Steinberg, Karl von Kries, John Waldman, and Robert Schmidt for their assistance and advice during the course of this study. Useful comments on an earlier draft were provided by John Waldman, Gordon Thayer, and Tom Halavik. This study was supported, in part, under a contract with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and with funds provided by the Hudson River Foundation.


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GIS = geographical information system
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SUNY = State University of New York
TL = total length
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