Starfish Ocre Sea Star

One of the Gensorek girls points to a starfish on a recent visit to D-Dock in Charleston.

Photo by Rob Gensorek

Helloooooooo everybody!

The weather lately has been rainy, no wait, sunny, no, rainy, sunny, rainy. You get the idea. Either way it’s a sure sign that winter is on the way and with it we have already had some giant waves crashing into our shores creating both danger and beauty all at the same time. Many of us have seen images on calendars or on magazine covers of coastal waves crashing and raising to the sky hundreds of feet but you may not know that many have been taken here locally. If you have never been to Shore Acres State Park during a winter storm you owe it to yourself to do it at least once this winter.

For those of you not yet willing to give up there are still a few salmon getting caught here and there but overall it’s still slow and winding down fast. Surf perch fishing remains good to very good but the dangerous waves that are starting to occur are making us more choosy about the times we do it. As of this writing (Friday morning) crabbing remains stellar on the docks and in the bay with the ocean closed to  recreational crabbing until December first.  I have been crabbing a lot off the docks lately with my little ones and we are scoring big. After I submit this article I have to grab a five gallon bucket of cooked crab from my fridge and start shucking before I make room for more. We have been eating crab in butter, crab cakes, crab fettuccini alfredo, deep fried crab, and my new favorite, crab stuffed mushroom caps. I have been taking the stems off the mushrooms and stuffing them with a concoction of cream cheese and crab meat with some spices and either minced onion or jalapenos. These little bundles of goodness are then wrapped in bacon and grilled until they are golden brown. If I ever find myself being asked what I want for a last meal that’s totally what I’m ordering.

This week we are going to revisit the topic of starfish. My little girls and I are noticing more and more of them all the time which is a good thing because as many of you remember a few years ago it seemed there was not a single one left in the ocean. It turns out a chronic wasting disease caused by a virus wiped out most of them but they are indeed steadily making a comeback and my little ones are quite happy about it. These ocean dwellers make the pillars on the docks here in Charleston so much more fun and interesting during the low tides and pulling one up in a crab net is always cause for excitement with children.

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I guess for starters I should call them by their correct name. Our venerable local starfish is in fact the Ochre Sea Star. The sea stars we see locally are predominantly a purple color but can almost as easily be orange, reddish brown, or yellow, and they add a color and character unique to our coastal area that very few other things can compare to. With five arms or “rays” each reaching 4 to 10 inches the Ochre Sea Star is relatively large as far as sea stars go. The sea star moves around the intertidal areas and dock pilings it calls home in search of prey which may include mussels, snails, limpets and barnacles. The sea star uses its tubular “feet” to move about as well as to pry open the shells of its prey. These feet are operated hydraulically, as is much of the sea star. The process by which a sea star eats is as creepy as creepy gets and it plays out like this; the sea star will envelop its prey slowly and gradually, its arms will latch on to the shell of its victim and pry it apart just a little as it’s meal tries with all its might to stay closed. The sea star will position its mouth, which is on the bottom side of the animal over the opened shell and slowly push its stomach (yes stomach) into this open shell. The sea star then releases digestive enzymes and other “stomachy stuff” starting the process of digestion. The sea star then absorbs the mushy nutrients and the only thing left is an empty shell. While this may seem odd to most this is only one or two steps removed from the technique I use to eat a DQ blizzard so I am personally comfortable with the process. Living in the tidal and intertidal zones the Ochre Sea Star sometimes finds itself out of water both literally and figuratively as the high tide recedes and it is left clutching a rock, but not to despair, the Ochre is quite resilient and can lose up to 30 percent of its water content before suffering ill effects. With a lifespan of up to 20 years, a reproductive cycle starting about age five and the ability to produce 40 million eggs every summer I’d say these things are built to bounce back.

Whether you are enjoying the beauty of our Ochre Sea Star or catching crab for dinner I hope to see you out there.

Rob Gensorek is the owner of Basin Tackle www.basintackle.com in the Charleston Marina and can be reached by phone at 541-888-FISH, by Facebook at Basin Tackle Charleston, or e-mail at basin_tackle@yahoo.com. Robs fishing reports can be heard daily at 6:20 a.m. and 4:20 p.m. on KRSB Best Country 103 out of Roseburg and his Basin Tackle Outdoor Show can be heard Wednesdays at 3 p.m. and Saturdays at 6 a.m. at kwro.com. In addition to all this he sometimes actually gets out and catches a fish or two.

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