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Wetland Functions and Values: Fish Habitat

Person holding a bullhead catfish.  A hand holding a brownish grey fish with yellow tones on the rear half.  It is about 3 times as long as the hand is wide.  Behind it is greenish water with trees in the background along the shore.

Certain freshwater fish species require wetlands as spawning grounds and as nursery areas for their young. Spring spawning by northern pike in Lake Champlain is a particularly good example. Others, like black bullhead, yellow perch, pumpkin seed and bluegills, leave open water to spawn in shallow-water wetlands. The failure of many aspects of commercial and recreational freshwater fishing in the Great Lakes has been linked to wetland destruction.




lily pads floating in marsh water.  A number of green lily pads and water shield leaves floating on dark water.  One white lily flower is visible near the center of the photo.  In the distant background the shore is visible with trees.

Wetlands can be thought of as the farmlands of the aquatic environment since they produce great volumes of food (plant material). The major food value of wetland plants comes when the plants' dead leaves and stems break down in the water to form small particles of organic material called "detritus". This enriched material is the principal food for many small aquatic invertebrates, various shellfish, and forage fish that are food for larger predatory fish. These larger fish are, in turn, consumed by people.



According to the Vermont Wetland Rules, wetlands that are used for spawning by northern pike or that are important for providing fish habitat are significant wetlands. In determining whether a wetland is significant for fish habitat the Secretary or Panel shall, at a minimum, consider the extent to which it:

a. Provides spawning, nursery, feeding or cover habitat for fish.
b. Lowers or moderates the temperature of surface waters due to the discharge of cold springs, the provision of shade or for other reasons.

Wetland trees providing shade to stream of murky water.  In the center of the photo there is a long channel of brown water.  On either side there are green leafy trees.

Links of Interest

  • Fish of the Great Lakes. The Wisconsin Sea Grant provides photos, drawings, statistics, and habitat requirements of fish found in the Great Lakes, many of which are also found in the Lake Champlain Basin.
  • Vermont Fish and Wildlife. A guide to the sportfish of Vermont.