The Rappahannock River is one of nine major river systems in Virginia and most importantly the one that we live in. It contains many types of fish that people enjoy everyday in the forms of recreational fishing and consumption, or just to look at. There is a group of fish that are especially important and unique in the Rappahannock River. These fish are known as diadromous fish. A diadromous fish is a fish that will move from saltwater to freshwater or freshwater to saltwater throughout its life. These fish are extremely important to the health of the river because they bridge the gap between the bay and the river.

Photo Credit: Chesapeake Bay Program

There are two types of diadromous fish. A catadromous fish is one that is born in saltwater and lives its adult life in freshwater. When it is time to have babies it will return to the saltwater to start the next generation. The only catadromous fish that lives in the Rappahannock River is the American Eel. I am lucky enough to have held an American eel and seen them in the mountains of Madison County. What makes them so cool is that they swim the same way a snake moves on the ground. It is really interesting to see in person.

An anadromous fish is one that is born in freshwater and lives its adult life in saltwater environments. When it is time to have offspring it will travel back into freshwater, usually the same place they were born, and lay their eggs. Anadromous fish that live in the Rappahannock river are American shad, Hickory shad, Alewife, Blueback Herring, and Striped Bass. I have caught many striped bass in my lifetime. I have caught a majority of them in the Chesapeake bay. The same fish that I catch in the Bay are the same ones that are born in the Rappahannock River.

Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries

All the fish mentioned except for the striped bass are vital food sources for many fish in the Rappahannock River and the striped bass is a major recreational fish. These fish are extremely important in what makes the Rappahannock River such a great attraction. For these fish to continue to thrive they need free flowing rivers. Dams and other obstructions make it nearly impossible for these fish to move from upstream areas to coastal regions and vice versa.

The Rappahannock River is the longest freely flowing river in Virginia with only one dam left in its drainage. This dam is the Rapidan Mills dam. It is located in the Rapidan River in Rapidan, Va. There is hope however, with the start of the Rapidan Fish Passage Project changes could be made that would allow fish to finally move past the dam. This would restore over 500 miles of available fish habitat and be a huge win for the fish of the Rappahannock River.


This guest blog post was written by FOR Intern Noah Staton a Student at Virginia Tech. 

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