What are Hogchokers? What You Need to Know About The Hudson River Fish
Okay, when I first heard of the term "hogchoker," I was a little worried. At first impression, it sounded like something kinky and deranged, or maybe that's just how screwed up my own brain is. But no, hogchokers have been a main staple to the Hudson River ecosystem for centuries, and help to inspire and educate the community today.
What the Heck is a Hogchoker?
I recently spoke with Program Director of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Ruthie Gold, to learn more about the peculiar fish that finds a home in the Hudson Valley. Hogchokers is a type of fish that is a member of the American sole body. Their coloring is typically brownish/gray with a very modeled pattern.
They live on the bottom of the floor, so their coloring keeps them camouflaged. Their flat shape also adds to their safety on the river floor. Their flat shape allows them to lay flat on the ground and rocks, and they are easily able to borrow under the sand easily.
The hogchoker's flat belly is much lighter than the rest of its body. This phenomena is called counter-shading. If they swim upwards to the surface, its light belly combined with its flat stature allows it to blend in with the light coming from the water's surface.
The hogchoker's eyes are fascinating. Both of its eyes are on the top of their head so that they can easily look up when they are on the bottom of the river. They are not born that way, however. When they are young, they go through ocular migration, where one eye moves through its head to its new position. Freaky!
Why is it Called "Hogchoker?"
The scientific name for the hogchoker is "trinectes maculatus." The term "hogchoker" goes back to the early colonizers. Agriculturally, hogchokers were typically bycatch. They are small, about the size of your hand, and they are very bony, so they are not great for human consumption.
The fish carcasses were then used commonly as fertilizers. Farmers would also use the fish to feed their livestock, specifically the pigs. If you pet the fish from head to tail, it is very smooth, but if you pet it from tail to head, it is spiky and rough. If a hog were to swallow the fish from tail to head, it would get lodged in their throat, and they could easily choke. Hence how the fish got its name.
Ruthie Gold of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater explained to me that the hogchoker was the unofficial mascot of their program because they commonly catch them, and they are a great educational tool. At their Life Station onboard, they catch, look at, and identify fish. Hogchokers are often amongst the catch.
The hogchokers help groups learn about adaptation and ecology. When it comes to field trips, the Sloop Clearwater works with grades 4th and up, but also do public sails where people can buy tickets. Their field trips, which can cater from elementary levels to college levels, offer workshops and stations so students can learn how to be stewards for the river.
Since the pandemic, there is a pent-up demand to get out once again, and Clearwater has been happy to embrace patrons new and old. They take each trip as an opportunity to expand awareness by talking about current events with the Hudson River, acts and laws, and more. Even for students who can't vote yet, they teach them ways that they can help advocate for the river.
Hudson River Sloop Clearwater's mission is to promote environmental advocacy in order to protect and preserve the Hudson River ecosystem. Their sloop is 106 ft long and 53 years old. It allows guests to have an up close and personal interaction with the river to create an authentic connection.
The sloop docks as far north as Albany, and as far south as New York City. They are popular when it comes to community trips and educational field trips. They have a special license from the DEC for fishing. Their license is a specific "catch and release" license.
Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Events
Even during the cold months, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater is still busy at work. In the winter, the sloop goes through winter maintenance. While the sloop gets prepared for the next year, the Clearwater group continues to do webinars, virtual programming, and fundraisers.
Before the Sloop shuts down on November 1st, they have their special Pumpkin Sail happening throughout October. Sloop Clearwater partners with other sloops and organizations at riverfront parks for a celebration of the harvest time and a tribute to river communities that will be fun for the whole family.
After they shutdown for the year, they will be holding A Benefit Concert for Clearwater on November 6th at 5pm at the Rosendale Theater. Performers include Jaeger & Reid, Betty & the Baby Boomers, Roger the Jester, and Bill Staines.