Monday, July 24, 2017

Critter tales - This ‘trash fish’ is a treasure

By Elizabeth Droge-Young, communications intern
Sea robins get a raw deal.
They’re described as ugly bait stealers, likened to the mythical creature from the black lagoon, and uncharitably labeled as trash fish. Even the most supportive of sources term them “unusual”.
As a Colorado native, where we’re up to our gills in trout, I could only have dreamt of a fish as unique as the northern sea robin. With my land-locked perspective, I’d like to make a case for this gorgeous and spunky fish (that’s right, I said gorgeous):
They come from a talented family
Northern sea robins belong to the greater sea robin family, called Triglidae. They get their common name from their wing-like pectoral fins, as well as the orange belly of an Atlantic-dwelling relative. Those “wings” aren’t just visually striking, some species use them to glide through the air like flying fish.
If that’s not a neat enough trick, take a step onto a different branch of their family tree to find the brightly striped—and venomous—lionfish. Both lionfish and sea robins are part of the same spiky-finned order, Scorpaeniformes.
They speak up when upset
If you’ve ever caught a sea robin, you may have heard its signature ‘croak’. When removed from the water, sea robins let their displeasure be known by internally drumming on their swim bladder, the air-filled organ that keeps fish afloat.
They’re super at sensing
The first three rays of each winged pectoral fin are separated from the rest of the fin and look like little walking legs as they search for food along the bay’s bottom. These specialized rays are used to detect subtle chemicals found in their invertebrate prey.
They’re not fussy eaters
Northern sea robins are just as happy with worm bits as they are with a gourmet lobster dinner. They’ll make a meal of any invertebrate or small fish they run into on the bay floor. Their easy going eating habits also means anglers who are after more popular fish frequently hook northern sea robins on accident.
They’re tasty with butter
While anglers frequently throw back northern sea robins, their relatives are frequently found on European dinner tables, including in bowls of authentic French bouillabaisse. Still, sea robins are making their way into Northeast fish markets as a more affordable alternative to popularly served fish, such as fluke.
You don’t have to travel far to see them
Abundant in coastal waters from Maine all the way down to South Carolina, northern sea robins can be found right off Rhode Island’s shores. You can get up close and personal with these remarkable fish at Save The Bay’s Exploration Center on Easton’s Beach at 175 Memorial Blvd.
While the number and kinds of sea robin are always rotating, the aquarium now hosts seven of these fish—all visiting from the Narragansett Bay. In addition to the northern sea robin, you can also gaze upon their cousins, the striped sea robin. Growing up to a foot long, these fish can be found in the aquarium’s rocky shores tank and the big fish of the bay tank. A juvenile sea robin can also be spotted in the specimen tanks at the back of the center.
Spend some time with these lovely critters and you may see this trash fish from a new perspective.
There’s always more room with me on “team sea robin.”