MORE EELGRASS POSITIVES
Editor’s note: TJ Maglio pens FLW’s Bass Science department. He has a degree in wildlife ecology and works with some of the top fisheries managers in the country.
Vallisneria, or eelgrass, might be new to some Tennessee River anglers, but it’s certainly not new to that region of the country. It is a native aquatic grass, and if anything the recent spread should be described as a “resurgence” rather than an introduction. There could be many reasons for this, and more study needs to be done to unlock the specific factors involved, but it’s likely in some part due to the (relatively) cleaner and more stable water that flows through the Tennessee River today as compared to 20 and even 40 years ago.
One of the frequent goals of conservation biology is to restore native species that have seen decreases. In that respect, the increases in the eelgrass prevalence and abundance in the Tennessee River system should be considered a very positive thing for the health of the system. The fact that it also improves the fishing is just a side benefit.
In addition to it being good bass habitat and top-notch waterfowl forage, eelgrass provides other system services that make it a boon to fisheries. It grows dense root masses, creating a “sod” effect in areas with current, which minimizes bottom erosion. Eelgrass also decreases turbidity and clears the water by trapping sediment. It also provides dense cover, which helps young-of-the-year bass and forage species, and harbors tons of aquatic invertebrates, which are hugely important to the whole food chain.
In short, eelgrass is a good thing.