White Perch (Morone americana)

White Perch (Morone americana)

White perch are abundant in some places, rare in others, similar enough to other species to be misidentified, and underappreciated as table fare.

Identification

The 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/Age

White 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/Behavior

White 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 habits

White 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 Names

silver bass, silver perch, sea perch, bass, narrow-mouthed bass, bass perch, gray perch, bluenose perch, humpy; French: bar blanc d’Amerique.

Distribution

White 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.

Habitat

Like 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.
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