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Fish of the Hudson River Estuary

Northern pike
Northern pike

Lined seahorse. Northern pike. Striped searobin. Naked goby. Which of these fishes is found in the Hudson River?

The answer is all of the above. These four species are among more than 200 fishes that have been found in the Hudson and its watershed. Some are abundant, others are strays from the ocean that have appeared only once or twice. But all told, the diversity and numbers of fish here are impressive.

What accounts for this diversity? Most important is the fact that the lower Hudson is an estuary - a body of water open to the sea, in which salt and fresh water come together. The rather salty water off Manhattan is home to seahorses, searobins and flounders. Moving upriver, salinity decreases; where the water becomes fresh, anglers catch sunfish, black bass, yellow perch, and a few northern pike.

Sturgeon caught by the Hudson River Fisheries Unit
Atlantic sturgeon

The Hudson estuary also hosts many migratory fishes. The river's signature species - Atlantic sturgeon, American shad, and striped bass - live the first few months or years of their lives in fresh water before swimming out into the Atlantic to mature. As adults they will return to the river only to spawn. The American eel does the opposite; born in the ocean, it enters fresh water to grow to adulthood, and then returns to the ocean to lay its eggs.

The diversity of fishes here is swelled by the variety of habitats to be found in and along the Hudson. There are tidal marshes, dense beds of submerged vegetation, clear-flowing tributary streams, and broad shallow bays that serve as solar collectors for huge populations of tiny algae - dinner for microscopic animals that are in turn the perfect food source for newborn fish.

Two catfish found in the Hudson River: channel catfish and white catfish
Channel catfish and white catfish, two other species
of fish found in the Hudson

One can learn more about the Hudson's fish by attending a seining program, in which naturalists pull a curtain-like net through shallow water. After examining the catch, participants release the fish back into the river. These programs are offered by many environmental education centers along the estuary, including the Hudson River Research Reserve's Norrie Point facility in Staatsburg (Dutchess County). DEC also offers I Fish New York angling programs at Norrie Point and other locations.

Hudson and Delaware Marine Fisheries

The Hudson River Fisheries Unit takes data on a striped bass
The Hudson River Fisheries Unit collects data
on a striped bass

The Hudson has a rich history of commercial fishing. Sturgeon, shad, and striped bass have been the mainstays of that tradition, but overfishing, pollution, and other problems have closed these fisheries for now. The Hudson and Delaware Marine River Fisheries Unit conducts research to improve our understanding of these fish and support efforts to restore their populations so that the fisheries can be reopened.

For descriptions and lovely paintings of migratory and freshwater fish found in the Hudson and elsewhere in New York, visit DEC's Freshwater Fishes web page. Also available is a checklist of Hudson River fishes (PDF, 35 KB) including species recorded from the Upper Bay of New York Harbor all the way to the river's headwater streams.

More about Fish of the Hudson River Estuary:

  • The Great Hudson River Estuary Fish Count - On one day each summer, naturalists at many sites along the Hudson estuary sample the great variety of fishes to be found as the water goes from fresh upriver to salty at New York City, and share their finds with visitors before releasing the fish back to the river.
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  • The Hudson River Estuary Program
    NYSDEC Region 3
    21 S Putt Corners Rd
    New Paltz, NY 12561
    Fax: 845-255-3649
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