Striped bass Morone saxatilis (A.K.A. Rockfish, Rock, Striper)
Striped bass is a silvery fish that gets its name from the seven or eight dark, continuous stripes along the side of its body. On the Atlantic coast, striped bass range from St. Lawrence River, Canada to St. Johns River, Florida, although they are most prevalent from Maine to North Carolina. Striped bass tend to move north to nearshore waters of the New England coast during the summer, and south to the North Carolina/Virginia Capes during the winter. Striped bass from southern North Carolina to northern Florida do not undertake coastal migrations. Similarly, striped bass from Nova Scotia are relatively isolated and probably do not migrate after spawning. The east coast migratory population is composed of three major stocks - Hudson, Chesapeake, and Roanoke.
The striped bass stock within Chesapeake Bay is composed of pre-migratory fish, primarily ages 5 and younger, and coastal migratory striped bass from age 2 to more than age 20. Mature resident and migratory striped bass move into tidal freshwater in the late winter and spring to spawn. After spawning, migratory fish return to the coast. Most spend the summer and early fall months in middle New England near-shore waters. During the late fall and early winter, coastal striped bass migrate south to winter off the North Carolina/Virginia Capes.
Female striped bass can mature as early as age 4; however, it takes several years (age 8 or older) for spawning females to reach full productivity. Once a mature female deposits her eggs, they are fertilized by milt ejected from a mature male (age 2 or 3). Spawning is triggered by an increase in water temperature and generally occurs in
April, May and early June in Chesapeake Bay. The fertilized eggs drift downstream with currents and eventually hatch into larvae. The larvae begin feeding on microscopic animals during their downstream journey. After their arrival in the nursery areas, located in tidal reaches of the spawning rivers, they mature into juveniles. They remain in Chesapeake Bay for two to four years, and then migrate to the Atlantic Ocean. With warming water temperatures in the spring, mature fish start their spawning runs in freshwater rivers and streams to complete their life cycle. Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries are the primary spawning and nursery area for up to 70-90% of the Atlantic coast stocks of striped bass. Other important spawning areas include the Hudson River in New York and rivers along the North Carolina coast.
Chesapeake Bay Management
The Chesapeake Bay Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan (FMP) was completed in December 1989 and its goal is to enhance and perpetuate the striped bass stock in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, and throughout its Atlantic coast range, to generate optimum long-term ecological, social and economic benefits. In order to meet this goal, a number of objectives must be met. The primary objective, from which all others stem, is to follow the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission) guidelines and requirements. Other objectives include: (1) controlling fishing mortality to restore and maintain striped bass stocks at levels appropriate for protecting the reproductive potential of the species while allowing some harvesting; (2) developing
harvest regulations to allocate and control harvest at safe levels; (3) determining stock assessment and research needs to better identify, protect and enhance the Chesapeake Bay striped bass population and; (4) examining the effects of environmental (water quality, habitat) parameters on striped bass stocks. This FMP is currently being revised and information will be updated upon its completion.
A coastwide fishery management plan, entitled Fishery Management Plan for the Striped Bass of the Atlantic Coast from Maine to North Carolina (Plan), was adopted by the Commission in 1981. The Plan has been amended five times since then. The current Amendment 5 established a target fishing mortality rate (F=0.31) and suggests that states should not implement increases in harvest. In October 1998, the Commission's Striped Bass Management Board approved Addendum III to Amendment 5 to the Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan. This states to freeze state fisheries for 1999 and 2000 at current levels since current fishing mortality rates are at or near the target fishing mortality rate (F=0.31) established in Amendment 5. The next two years will be spent evaluating important broad management issues such as allocation (state-by-state and among user groups), quality fishing, and new target fishing mortality rates. Under these Plans, striped bass have made the most significant recovery ever experienced for a coastal finfish species. The Commission declared that the Chesapeake Bay stocks of striped bass were recovered as of January 1, 1995. To obtain a copy of Amendment 5, or any other coastwide management publication, please contact the Commission at (202) 289-6400.
Maryland DNR Fisheries Service is involved in many different programs designed to collect the best available data needed to make sound management decisions. For example, Maryland DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have been tagging striped bass as part of the Cooperative Coastal Striped Bass Tagging Program since 1986. To date, approximately 54,000 striped bass have been tagged and released. Information gathered is used to determine mortality rates and these rates allow biologists to evaluate and adjust individual state and coastal management programs as needed. This program's success is in part due to the cooperation of both commercial and recreational fishermen in reporting tagged fish. If you catch a tagged striped bass, you should cut off the tag and record the date, location, and method of capture. If you are unable to cut off the tag then write down the tag number along with the required information. You should report the information as soon as possible to the USFWS at 1(800) 448-8322. In return for recapture information, fishermen receive a certificate and a hat from USFWS.
In addition, the Maryland Juvenile Striped Bass Survey has been in existence since 1954 and documents annual variation in year-class success for young-of-the-year (YOY) striped bass. Annual indices of relative abundance provide an early indicator of future adult stock recruitment. The Spawning Stock Biomass (SSB) Model, which is currently used by the Commission to determine spawning stock size and health, is based on this measure of juvenile production. These indices document annual variation and long-term trends in abundance and distribution and are useful in the evaluation and management of many Chesapeake Bay finfish species and their habitats.
Commercial and Recreational Fisheries Striped bass are one of the most sought after commercial and recreational finfish in Chesapeake Bay, and its harvest within the Bay is determined by the Commission. The 1998-99 Commission recommended harvest quota for Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions is approximately 11.2 million pounds. This quota is divided accordingly: Maryland - 52%, Virginia - 33%, and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission - 15%. This ratio is based on the historic number of users in each jurisdiction. A separate quota of 91,000 pounds with a minimum size of 28 inches total length (TL) exists for Maryland's Atlantic coastal waters. The Maryland Chesapeake Bay quota of approximately 5.9 million pounds (52%) is then further divided among the various Maryland stakeholders. Further division of the quota among the various commercial gears and establishment of commercial and recreational seasons is subject to revision annually in response to changes made with the overall Maryland quota.
Commercial Chesapeake Bay fishermen harvest striped bass with a variety of gear including pound nets, haul seines, gill nets and hook and line. During the 1998-99 season, drift gill nets and commercial hook and line were assigned 75% of the quota (1,761,000 pounds), and pound nets and haul seines were given 25% (587,850 pounds). Maryland coastal commercial fishermen harvest striped bass using otter trawls and drift gill nets.
In 1994, the Maryland General Assembly passed a law limiting the number of individuals who can commercially harvest striped bass in tidal waters. Due to increasing fishing effort for striped bass, commercial striped bass authorizations were limited to 1231 individuals. This figure represents the number of individuals that participated in the 1993-1994 commercial striped bass season. Individuals who did not participate, but wish to commercially harvest striped bass, must apply to a waiting list. Currently, there are 422 individuals on this waiting list, and when an authorization becomes available, it is issued to the first person on the list.
Striped Bass Fun Facts:
The largest striped bass ever recorded was a 125 pound female from North Carolina,
The oldest ever recorded was 31 years of age.
The current Maryland Chesapeake Bay record striped bass is 67 lbs., 8 oz.
The average Chesapeake Bay 6-year-old female striped bass produces 500,000 while a 15-year-old can produce over three million eggs.
Striped bass tagged in the Bay have been recaptured in Canadian waters, over 1,000 miles away.
Striped bass were so plentiful at one time, they were used to fertilize fields.