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Hudson River Estuary Studies

Check out new migration music by Audrey Van Genechten, NY Dept. of Health

50 jazz-stricken Hudson River striped bass returning in spring to spawn

The Hudson River Estuary harbors a reservoir of biodiversity that represents its geological origin, its location between mid-Atlantic and New England coastal ecosystems, and connectivity to freshwater ecosystems ranging from montane streams to fringing marshes. The Hudson River Estuary maps past and ongoing human influences – navigation and ecological corridors to the Great Lakes and the Atlantic  

Ocean, centuries of fishing, industrial and urban degradation and clean up, and generations of invasive species. What particularly fascinates us about the Hudson River Estuary is that it harbors among the healthiest populations of diadromous fishes - sturgeons, striped bass, eels, alewives, and American shad. Although only striped bass and shortnose sturgeon populations could be described as robust, it is remarkable that this full suite of species occurs in the Hudson, where in other US Atlantic major estuaries only a portion of these species is supported.             


Our laboratory has been privileged with two decades of support from the Hudson River Foundation that has allowed us to undertake a series of investigations on striped bass, eel, and sturgeons resulting in over 15 peer-reviewed publications that relate Hudson River fish ecology to macro-scale patterns of habitat use, migration, and “connectivity.” Connectivity here refers to the “enhanced storage of genetic and energetic pools due to variable migration and dispersal patterns across habitats and ecosystems” (Secor and Rooker 2005). Connectivity is highly relevant to why the Hudson River Estuary harbors productive and diverse diadromous fishes. Our past research on striped bass indicates that variable migration patterns have a dominant influence on PCB exposure and body burdens (e.g., Zlokovitz and Secor 1999; Ashley et al. 2000). Telemetry research on striped bass has informed us that within the Hudson River, resident striped bass show strong homing to the same foraging grounds year after year (Wingate and Secor 2007). Research on American eel also indicates strong homing to localized regions in the Hudson River, resulting in strong riverine-estuarine gradients in their growth, abundance, condition, disease and PCB and metal contamination (Morrison and Secor 2003; Arslan and Secor 2005).

In ongoing research, we released acoustically-tagged contingents of striped bass (total=70) captured from (1) the Hudson River spawning ground in the Hudson River in spring; (2) the NY Harbor in fall; and (3) the upper Hudson River in fall. Remote receivers tracked their movements throughout the Hudson River, the NY Harbor and other estuaries along the Atlantic coast (see figure above). Results indicate that like Manhattan, the surrounding NY Harbor invites immigrants from distant locales. A good number of Harbor striped bass likely began life elsewhere, but still home to the Harbor year after year during fall and winter months. Striped bass also showed expected “contingent” behaviors – an increased tendency for residency by striped bass tagged in the upper Hudson River in the fall and a tendency for oceanic migrations by striped bass tagged on the spawning ground in spring.


Cairns, D.K., D.H. Secor, W.E. Morrison, and J.A. Hallet. 2009. Salinity-linked growth in anguillid eels and the paradox of temperate-zone anadromy.  J. Fish Biol. 74: 2094–2114

Woodland, R.J., D.H. Secor, and E.J. Niklitschek. 2009. Past and future habitat suitability for the Hudson River population of shortnose sturgeon: a bioenergetic approach to modeling habitat suitability for an endangered species. Am. Fish. Soc. Symp. 69: 589-604.

Wingate, R.L. and D.H. Secor. 2007. Intercept telemetry of the resident contingent of Hudson River striped bass: migration and homing patterns.  Trans. Am. Fish. Soc. 136: 95–104

Woodland, R. and D.H. Secor. 2007. Year-class strength and recovery of endangered shortnose sturgeon in the Hudson River, NY.  Trans. Am. Fish. Soc. 136:72–81

Arslan, Z. and Secor, D.H. 2005. Analysis of trace transition elements and heavy metals in fish otoliths as tracers of habitat use by American eels in the Hudson River estuary. Estuaries. 28: 382-393.

Morrison, W.E. and D.H. Secor.  2004. Abundance  of yellow-phase American eels in the Hudson River Estuary. Trans. Am. Fish. Soc. 133: 896-910.

Morrison, W.E. and D.H. Secor.  2003. Demographic attributes of yellow-phase American eels in the Hudson River Estuary.  Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 60: 1487-1501

Zlokovitz, E.R., D.H. Secor, and P.M. Piccoli. 2003. Patterns of migration in Hudson River striped bass as determined by otolith microchemistry.  Fisheries Research 63: 245-259

Morrison, W. E., D. H. Secor, and P. M. Piccoli. 2003. Estuarine habitat use by Hudson River American eels. Am. Fisheries Society Sympos. 33: 87-99.

Secor, D. H. 2002. Atlantic sturgeon fisheries and stock abundances during the late nineteenth century. Am. Fish. Soc. Sympos. 28: 89‑98.  

Gross, M. R., J. Repka, C. T. Robertson, D. H. Secor and W. Van Winkle.  2002.  Sturgeon conservation: insights from elasticity analysis.  Am. Fish. Soc. Sympos. 28: 3‑10.

 Secor, D. H., J. R. Rooker, E. Zlokovitz and V. S. Zdanowicz.  2001.  Identification of riverine, estuarine, and coastal contingents of Hudson River striped bass based upon otolith elemental fingerprints.  Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 211:245‑253.

 Ashley, J. T. F, D. H. Secor, E. Zlokovitz, J. E. Baker and S. Q. Wales.  2000.  Linking habitat use of Hudson River striped bass to accumulation of polychorinated biphenyl congeners.  Environ. Sci. Tech.  34:1023-1029.

Stevenson, J. T. and D. H. Secor.  1999.  Age determination and growth of Hudson River Atlantic sturgeon, Acipenser oxyrinchus.  Fish. Bull. 97:153-166. 

Zlokovitz, E. R. and D. H. Secor.  1999.  Effect of habitat use on PCB body burden in fall-collected, Hudson River striped bass (Morone saxatilis).  Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 56 (Suppl.1):86-93. 

Secor, D. H. and P. M. Piccoli.  1996.  Age- and sex-dependent migrations of the Hudson River striped bass population determined from otolith microanalysis.  Estuaries 19:778-793.