Contact: Brad Chase


Sorting a fish sample after using a beach seine in Salem Sound
Sorting a fish sample after using a beach seine in Salem Sound

A study of the marine resources of Salem Sound was conducted by MarineFisheries staff in 1997. The study focused on water quality and fishery resources. The presence and relative abundance of fish, arthropods, and macrophytes were recorded during monthly seine and trawl sampling trips. Water chemistry measurements, including detailed nutrient analyses were made at river and marine stations on 18 dates. We also conducted a survey of soft-shell clam habitat and summarized available catch data for recreational and commercial fisheries. Limited comparisons were made of the study results to the 1965 DMF estuarine study of Salem Sound and fisheries sampling for the Salem Harbor power plant in the 1970s. Sampling data from the 1997 study has assisted the interagency review of environmental permit for major projects/facilities in the region (Salem Harbor dredging, regional wastewater treatment plant, Salem Harbor power plant).

Status: field work complete. Reporting. Third draft sent out for review in January.     

A comprehensive study on the marine resources of Salem Sound was completed in 1997. The study was a cooperative effort between the DMF's Sportfisheries Technical Assistance Program and members of Salem Sound 2000, a local coalition of citizens interested in natural resource conservation. The purpose of the study was to document the status of marine fish and shellfish resources and water quality in Salem Sound, a prominent embayment on the North Shore of Massachusetts. This type of study was previously conducted 30 years ago as part of DMF's Estuarine Research Program, which produced excellent reports on 17 embayments and estuaries in the 1960s and 1970s. The original program has aged gracefully as the reports are still considered benchmarks and valued as references by resource managers today.

Salem Sound was selected as the location for this intensive study for several reasons. Local support was high because Salem Sound is a highly populated region with valuable coastal resources and a community that looks back fondly upon a rich maritime heritage. The harbors in Marblehead, Salem, Danvers, Beverly and Manchester continue to provide infrastructure for important fishing and boating industries. These businesses and recreational activities depend on healthy marine resources. Interest has been growing within these communities to improve water and resource quality in Salem Sound. This local interest and MarineFisheries proximity to Salem Sound set the framework for an exciting partnership. Salem Sound 2000 had a network of volunteers established through ongoing programs, and was primed to make a big contribution as they approached the celebratory year 2000. The agency was also interested in using the Salem Sound Study as a pilot for evaluating further efforts to revisit the original Estuarine Program. The timing of the study was fortunate because of Salem Sound 2000's momentum, and due to: the application of study data to serve as a pre-operational baseline to the start up of the South Essex Sewerage District secondary sewerage treatment facility in 1998; and support from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection's Watershed Initiative Program to conduct the research and assessment phase of the North Coastal Basin in 1997.

Similar to the study conducted in 1965, the key features of the work done in 1997 focused on fisheries and water quality sampling. Monthly fisheries sampling was conducted by staff based in the Annisquam Laboratory along with basic water chemistry and nutrient measurements. Salem Sound 2000 took the lead on a scuba survey and the Citizens Water Quality Monitoring Program, and ongoing surveys of the soft-shell clam beds and fecal coliform monitoring. The scuba survey was conducted by many dedicated volunteer divers, who routinely collected transect data to profile benthic resources that otherwise may not be well represented by traditional fisheries sampling methods. The Citizens Water Quality Monitoring Program brought together five teams of volunteers, who collected water chemistry data at five locations on a weekly basis from May through October. MarineFisheries assisted with the design of the scuba survey and water quality monitoring and teamed up with Salem Sound 2000 for the clam survey and fecal coliform monitoring. In addition, local undergraduates from Salem State College gained credits by conducting side projects related to different aspects of the study. Together, all these components provided a tremendous opportunity to document the health of Salem Sound, and created a teamwork approach to a big job.

The finfish sampling consisted of boat trawling with a 30 ft. shrimp trawl, shore seining with a 50 ft. beach seine, and setting a 250 ft. gillnet to target mobile species that might evade the trawl and seine. The finfish sampling design was very similar to the previous study. Monthly visits were made to six trawling stations and six seine stations to sample fish and measure water chemistry. The study locations were nearly identical to the 1965 study. To improve sampling coverage, replicate samples were added for each seine and trawl location and trawling was increased to twice a month during the warmer months of May through October. Gillnets were deployed monthly, May through October. In most cases, finfish were counted and returned to the sea unharmed. Species of commercial or recreational importance were measured and stomach samples were collected from skate and striped bass in order to learn of the feeding habits of two of the sounds more prominent predators.

Extensive nutrient sampling was also added to the 1997 study, with the assistance of a Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection 104B3 grant. Eight freshwater stations were visited with the same frequency of the trawl sampling to collect nutrient samples and measure water chemistry and flow. Three marine stations were visited to collect nutrient samples during trawl trips, which were scheduled within 24 hours of the freshwater trips. The objective of the nutrient sampling is to document watershed loading of major nutrients (primarily nitrogen and phosphorus) and learn of their fate in the marine environment.

Data transcription is now underway and a comprehensive report will be produced on the study results. The finfish sampling was successfully completed throughout the year and produced 46 species of finfish, 12 decapod crustaceans and 6 mollusks. Finding a large number of fish species was encouraging, perhaps reflecting well upon the diversity of the finfish community in Salem Sound. But the catch of traditional groundfish species, such as cod and winter flounder did not, as expected, compare well to the numbers caught in the previous study.

More specific and interesting results will unfold as study results are analyzed. In the end the study may provide a wealth of information for local, state and federal officials to use as they make decisions on resource management issues. It is also hoped that the teamwork approach used so successfully for this study will be applied again and will inspire citizens to take an active role in conserving and improving the marine resources found so close to the communities where they work and live.