White perch are abundant in some places, rare in others, similar enough to other species to be misidentiﬁed, and underappreciated as table fare.
IdentificationThe white perch is not a true perch but a member of the temperate bass family and a relative of the white bass and the striped bass. It is similar in shape to the striped bass, but it has a deeper, less-rounded body and lacks the horizontal lines found on the striped bass.
Although shorter, stockier, and smaller in weight than a striper, it is very similar in appearance to a white bass, except that it has no stripes. A more appropriate name for this species would probably be silver bass, and it is called by that name in some areas.
The white perch has a deep, thin body that slopes up steeply from the eye to the beginning of the dorsal ﬁn and that is deepest under the ﬁrst dorsal ﬁn. On large, older specimens, the white perch can be nearly humpbacked at that spot.
Its colors can be olive, gray green, silvery gray, dark brown, or black on the back, becoming a lighter silvery green on the sides and silvery white on the belly. The pelvic and the anal ﬁns (both on the belly) are sometimes rosy colored. Like all members of the temperate bass family, it has two dorsal ﬁns on the back, and the pelvic ﬁns sit forward on the body, below the pectoral ﬁns.
The ﬁrst dorsal ﬁn has nine spines, but the second one is soft rayed. There are three spines at the front of the anal ﬁn, and a single spine precedes the second dorsal ﬁn and each pelvic ﬁn. The white perch has no teeth on its tongue, its scales are relatively large, and the lateral line is complete.
Size/AgeWhite perch are generally small and slow-growing after attaining juvenile size. The average white perch caught by anglers weighs under a pound and is probably close to three-quarters of a pound and 9 inches in length. These ﬁgures can obviously vary among regions and populations. In some places, the average white perch is just 6 inches long.
These ﬁsh have a normal life span of between 5 and 7 years, but some specimens may live for 14 to 17 years. They are said to be able to grow to 19 inches and 6 pounds, but these dimensions are extremely rare; the largest white perch in angling records is a 4-pound, 12-ounce Maine ﬁsh that was caught in 1949.
Life history/BehaviorWhite perch are spring spawners, usually accomplishing this act when water temperatures are between 57°F and 75°F and in shallow water over many kinds of bottoms. Males and females each spawn several times in random fashion. For unknown reasons, white perch in some bodies of freshwater are extremely successful at reproduction, whereas in others they are virtually unsuccessful.
These ﬁsh are a schooling species that groups even while young and continues to stay in loose open-water schools through adulthood. They do not orient to cover and structure and tend to be deeper than yellow perch, with whom they occupy the same lakes and ponds in parts of their range.
Food and feeding habitsWhite perch in lakes are known to feed both during the day and at night but are generally more active in low light and nocturnally. Freshwater and saltwater populations move to surface (or inshore) waters at night, retreating to deeper water during the day.
Perch eat mostly aquatic insect larvae when they are small. As they grow, they eat many kinds of small ﬁsh, such as smelt, yellow perch, killiﬁsh, and other white perch, as well as the young of other species, particularly those that spawn after them. They also reportedly consume crabs, shrimp, and small alewives and herring.
Other Namessilver bass, silver perch, sea perch, bass, narrow-mouthed bass, bass perch, gray perch, bluenose perch, humpy; French: bar blanc d’Amerique.
DistributionWhite perch are found along the Atlantic coast from the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence to South Carolina and inland along the upper St. Lawrence River to the lower Great Lakes. They are present in all three Maritime Provinces, common in Lake Ontario, and especially abundant in the Hudson River and Chesapeake Bay areas. The white perch is far more coastal in occurrence than is the white bass, and most of the overlap in their distribution occurs in the area of the Great Lakes and the upper St. Lawrence River.
HabitatLike its striped bass cousin, the adaptable white perch is at home in saltwater, brackish water, and freshwater. In marine waters, it is primarily found in brackish water, estuaries, and coastal rivers and streams, and some of the latter have sea-run populations. Some white perch remain resident in brackish bays and estuaries, whereas others roam widely in search of food.
White perch inhabit scattered freshwater lakes and ponds throughout their range, but in varied abundance. A proliﬁc ﬁsh, they have overpopulated some ponds and small lakes and have been deemed a nuisance, especially when crowding out black bass, trout, and other species. For marine purposes, white perch are considered demersal (bottom dwelling), and in general they do tend to stay deep in their home waters, on or close to the bottom.