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The white perch is the smallest member of the temperate bass family. It has silvery gray sides that fade to white on the underside, and its name comes from an overall pale appearance. White perch are easily distinguished by the lack of dark stripes on their bodies, and by the lack of teeth on their tongues. They also have upper and lower jaws that are approximately the same length.
White perch can live in fresh or saltwater habitats, though they prefer brackish coastal waters. In New York, white perch are rapidly expanding inland, and now live in many of the state’s rivers (e.g. St. Lawrence, Seneca, Mohawk, Hudson) and lakes (e.g. Oneida & Chautauqua Lakes, Great Lakes Erie & Ontario). They can be found in schools in turbid shallow areas where they feed on fish, fish eggs, invertebrates, and zooplankton. In Oneida Lake, white perch enjoy a diet of yellow perch, emerald shiners, snails, amphipods, caddisflies, and other invertebrates.
White perch spawn in late spring (May – June). Schools of spawning white perch crowd into tributary streams or along gravel shoals in lakes and large rivers to deposit their eggs. Each female produces hundreds of thousands of eggs, which are deposited across the bottom with no parental care. The tiny eggs sink to the bottom and attach to vegetation and rocks. Eggs hatch in a few days to a week, depending on the water temperature. After hatching, the young feed primarily on zooplankton.
At one time, white perch were an important commercial species in New York, though they were not documented in Oneida Lake until 1951. White perch became abundant here in the 1970’s, but disease ravaged the population in 1987-1988. They have been increasing again in the last decade, and are now the 2nd most abundant Oneida Lake fish. Although small in size, they can put up a good fight when hooked. White perch are especially easy to catch in the spring during spawning, and tend to be resistant to overfishing.
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