Arctic char

Artic char are the most northerly distributed of the freshwater fish, occurring in arctic regions throughout the world. This fish can either be landlocked, spending all of its time in fresh water, or anadromous, migrating to the sea.

Photo from wikimedia.org

This char is in the same family as salmon and trout, and like all char has light spots on a darker background. Most Arctic char have large white or pink spots on a dark green to brownish background. The char is a prized sport fish of the far north, attaining a size of about 20 pounds at maturity. The Arctic char is gaining popularity as a commercial fish with some netting of wild char, but most char are farmed in inland ponds. Char farming is considered to be ecologically responsible since the fish are raised in closed ponds where pollution is contained and domestic fish cannot escape into wild populations.

Char can be raised in large numbers; the farming occurs in colder climates where other fish farming would not occur, so it is considered an ecologically sustainable enterprise. Iceland, Norway and Canada are the leading producers of commercial Arctic char.

Arctic char is high in omega 3 oils, low in calories and has a milder taste than salmon.

There are small populations of Arctic char located in New England and Quebec. The local names given to these fish are blueback trout, Sunapee trout and Quebec red trout. They are remnants of sea run trout that inhabited the area 12,000 to 15,000 years ago, when glaciers still covered the landscape and the climate was more subarctic than today's temperate climate. Once the glaciers receded, they scoured the landscape; large, deep lakes were formed where many char became landlocked. These southern populations of char inhabit the deepest parts of the lakes and are rarely seen unless they emerge into shallow rocky areas in the fall to spawn.

These local char populations persisted in great numbers until human activities like dam-building, stocking nonnative fish and pollution caused their numbers to dwindle. In particular, the stocking of smelt, lake trout and landlocked salmon had an effect on various char populations throughout New England.

The smelt feed on char eggs and compete for similar food. Salmon and lake trout prey upon the char, and lake trout hybridize with these fish. There is a growing movement to stock blueback char in isolated ponds throughout Maine to re-establish this native fish.

Fall color alert

Despite the early arrival of fall foliage on trees like dogwood and black gum, it appears that the oaks are holding on to their green coloration, waiting until the customary time for color change. In most cases, the peak coloration in central Maryland occurs between Oct. 21 and 22, and it looks like this year will be no exception.

Once again, the amount of daylight to darkness (photoperiod) is the deciding factor in color change. The upcoming weekend should be near peak. For now you can enjoy the brilliant yellows of the hickories and sugar maples as they change. Also, many of the red and silver maples are still changing colors.

Cider, fall colors and the sweet smell of hickory smoke in the morning air -- it must be autumn.

Nature Notes for 10/21/2012