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July 28, 2009

Great Annual Fish Count sets records

More species than ever found off Cape Ann shores

With a record number of divers identifying a record number of species, it seems Cape Ann's Great Annual Fish Count this past weekend proved greater than ever, organizers say.

Fish aficionados and diving volunteers swam deep underwater in nine different Cape Ann locations as part of the Great Annual Fish Count on Saturday, where divers search for fish and identify as many species as they can.

Cape Ann's Great Annual Fish Count, hosted this year by the New England Aquarium Dive Club and the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), is the largest of its kind in the country. On Saturday, the event reported record numbers across the board.

Bob Michelson, the New England coordinator for the Great Annual Fish Count, said there were 119 divers conducting 140 total dives and they observed 45 different species. All three numbers were records for the eight-year-old local event.

"We've never had this many divers; we've never had this many species," Michelson said. "It's a good indicator that the environment is in improving condition over years past.

"Either we got lucky, or the divers are getting better at identifying fish," he said. "We had 238 eyes looking at fish. We've never had that many before. This (event) is expanding. I expect it to grow every year."

Michelson said four or five species were found that had never been observed before, including the Atlantic wolf fish and the Atlantic torpedo ray.

He said the wolf fish was a "very rare occurrence," despite that it is native to the Gulf of Maine. He said the torpedo ray is a "huge trash-barrel-sized fish that gives out tremendous electricity" that was hardly ever seen on Cape Ann up until a few years ago.

The divers could be found all across Cape Ann, at Folly Cove, Cathedral Rocks, Pebble Beach, Lane's Cove, Halibut Shores, Back Beach, Old Garden Beach, Plum Cove, and Stage Fort Park. All dives began at 8 a.m. Saturday and yielded great results.

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