Striped bass reproduction hits record low

Decline blamed on weather; no catch restrictions planned

By Timothy B. Wheeler, The Baltimore Sun

8:47 p.m. EDT, October 16, 2012

The number of young striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay fell to a record low this year, a drastic decline from a near-record high the year before, state officials reported Tuesday.

State biologists checking Maryland’s part of the bay found the fewest newly spawned striped bass that they’ve tallied in any year since annual surveys for the fish began 59 years ago, the Department of Natural Resources reported.

Maryland’s state fish, also known as rockfish, is closely monitored because it supports a multimillion-dollar recreational and commercial fishing industry that employs thousands. The species is widely regarded as one of the bright spots in the 30-year effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay; its population rebounded from near-collapse in the 1980s after a five-year fishing moratorium.

Though state officials said the decline probably was the result of unfavorable weather during spawning season, some recreational fishing advocates urged vigilance.

“We expected the numbers to be low, but by no means did we expect them to be this low,” said Tony Friedrich, executive director of the Coastal Conservation Association of Maryland. “It does concern us.”

The upper bay is the spawning ground and nursery for three-fourths of the striped bass that migrate along the East Coast.

In the Maryland survey, the number of little striped bass counted in each haul during a three-month sampling of traditional spawning areas was more than 90 percent below the long-term average.

Virginia scientists reported similarly poor reproduction in their survey of the southern portion of the bay.

DNR officials said there appeared to be plenty of adult striped bass returning to the bay’s rivers to spawn this year, but that unusually warm, dry weather last winter and spring spelled doom for their offspring.

Eric Durell, leader of the department’s striped bass survey, said newly hatched larvae are particularly sensitive to environmental conditions such as the flow, clarity and temperature of the water. In past years when ample rain fell around spawning season, the number of juvenile fish found was higher, he noted, but this year saw near-record low flows in bay tributaries.

“We think that this year we just did not have the flow necessary for larval survival,” Durell said.

Similar fish such as white perch, river herring and yellow perch also had poor reproduction this year, bolstering scientists’ belief that weather was to blame for the striped bass decline. Like striped bass, those species return to spawn in rivers after spending much of their lives in the Atlantic Ocean.

State officials said reproduction varies from year to year, so even this extremely poor showing was no cause to clamp down on fishing.

“One year of reproductive failure isn’t itself a disaster for a species like this,” said Durell. “We’re not overfished; we’re not overfishing.”

He said that the number and age range of adult fish remains good but noted that scientists are in the midst of taking a new look at the health of the striped bass population, which should be finished next year.

Last year’s survey found the fourth-highest number of juvenile striped bass ever, easing anxiety about the species’ sustainability. Spawning survival had been sub-par in four of the previous five years, and many adult fish in the bay have been suffering from mycobacteriosis, a disease that some have linked to a shortage of food for striped bass, particularly menhaden.

Until the 2011 uptick, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which regulates fishing in coastal waters, was considering a proposal to reduce the striped bass harvest by 40 percent.

Lynn Fegley, assistant state fisheries director, said the commission’s striped bass management plan does not require harvest reductions unless there are three years of poor reproduction in a row.

Commission members have talked about increasing conservation efforts for striped bass, Fegley acknowledged, but she said the current plan has been successful at sustaining the fish population despite reproduction ups and downs.

William Goldsborough, senior fisheries scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and a member of the Atlantic States commission, said the drop is “certainly something to keep an eye on … but I’m not terribly concerned.”

Independent fisheries experts said the poor reproduction this year was not cause for panic, because striped bass can spawn repeatedly over their lifespan and good years can balance out the bad.

“This is a fish that has many times at bat,” said David Secor, a fisheries ecologist with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences. “It can wait out a year or two or three, maybe more.”

But “if we have more of these years,” Secor added, “it means we could have diminished fisheries.”

14 comments on “Striped bass reproduction hits record low

  1. Gerard Doyle

    Wow. I guess you take from that what you want. I was wondering Z and all other brethren, how would all feel if it was 1@36.

  2. Chris S.

    “Spawning survival had been sub-par in four of the previous five years, and many adult fish in the bay have been suffering from mycobacteriosis, a disease that some have linked to a shortage of food for striped bass, particularly menhaden.”

    Hey everyone,

    The Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission (the regulating body for us) is currently seeking public comment on how to regulate the Atlantic Menhaden Fishery. (Public Input)

    Now is the time for you to enact change.

  3. Gerard Doyle

    I’ve sent in my donations and I do have to admit with the reductions they put on the menhaden it has helped. Not enough but a start is a start. I’ve seen more bunker on the north shore then i have in 5 years. Is it because of the reduction of harvesting , I hope so.

  4. Matt

    Shortage of menhaden may have more to do with Iomega then it does with bacteria, seeking comment. i feel the public comments plenty its the lawmakers who are afraid of corporate america.

    People complained about strict restrictions for fluke we’ll it worked fluke are much better off then they where, time to start being more agressive with other species, let the ocean balance itself back out.

    Lower commercial harvest across the board … Its not like fishermen loose money they will just get paid more for catching less when the price goes up per pound.

  5. WoodyCT

    Anyone who hasn’t read Dick Russel’s book “Striper Wars”, please do so, for it will give you perspective on the elements at war against our bass. From the industrial menhaden fishery, to the poaching of concentrated, over-wintering schools off the midAtlantic, to rampant illegal gill netting in Chesapeake Bay, to the legal commercial harvest this book will give you a glimpse into what we are up against in saving the striper. I would suggest that the wanton disrespect and slaughter our stripers are currently suffering at the hands of the modern, technology equipped ‘sporstman’ is sickening to the point that it begs Mr. Russel to write a second edition to address the need for resource managers to err on the side of conservation, and for true sportsmen to practice the highest degree of resource stewardship and limit their kill, rather than killing their limit. Just because the law says you can kill 2 per day does not mean it is good practice, or that you are doing no harm.

  6. Scott

    Not to be sarcastic; but could it be because of all the cows that were fed a snagged bunker and wound up in a dumpster at the marina? I’ve spoke to more people in the Jersey area then I can count who’ve never even considered fishing for stripers tell me they caught 30+ lber’s on a boat with a bunker in the last several years. Like we say in duck hunting: dead hens don’t lay eggs. BTW- I do think it’s ok to keep a fish once in a while, just not at the numbers we’re doing it at now.

  7. John P

    As said before, I do not think there is a credible NE surfcaster – who has been fishing for at least 15-20 yrs – and who is still fishing today – who has NOT noted a remarkable reduction in what is being seen in local waters.

    The science doesn’t necessarily back this, but if you look at all the ASMFC data, there is a clear downward trend since the early 00s.

    Whether this turns into action (reduction in bag limits or state quotas) is the big question, but this becomes a political issue, not a science-based issue.

  8. Greg

    talk about regs….

    how about one fish at xx inches and one “trophy” at xx inches per year. those that want to kill a big breeder can but only one. tournament guys will have to pick and choose wisely.

    it is how the bluefin is set up right now.

    one thing is for sure the NJ bunker pods will have a lot less big breeders killed in the spring!!!

  9. bigrock

    It’s starting again…the 80’s all over again. The killing of big breeders, and yet the words fall on deaf ears, catch and release for a while then 1 slot fish 24″ to 28″ per day per man. Heed these words, I remember when catching a 24″ striper was an accomplishment, it will be a sad time indeed….

  10. Captn Bob

    The menhaden boats that netted off the coast of Jersey haven’t been around for about eight years, and the bass numbers are still down. Haven’t caught one since the spring. Slot fish no slot one fish, who knows. This reminds me of the eighties. Good luck to all

  11. Ron Mattson Sr.

    Hope most are not depending on ASMFC to rescue the Striped Bass. They are connected at the waist with Maryland’s/North Carolina’s/Virginia’s Departments of Natural Resources. A resonable limiting approach to the striped bass decline should have taken place at least 5 years ago. Now we are going to pay the price once more. I fish the lower Chesapeake Bay for 3 months(sept.-nov.)and this year the striped bass population is dramatically reduced with most fish suffering from mycobacteriosis. The striped bass being caught are from 18″ to 30″ and paper thin,similar to the width of a slice of bread. All other species of fish caught(speckled trout-gray trout-flounder-redfish-croakers) are in excellent physical shape.


    Timothy you did a good decision to discuss in your article the common reasons why striped bass fail to spawn. I sometimes think why I cannot see or catch stripe bass in the Myrtle Beach especially after the typhoon. Thank you for the learning now I will not be irritated but to understand that fish needs to spawn and sometimes fail to do so. I just want to know if there is cure for mycobacteriosis. Is mycobacteriosis can affect all fish? Please help me to understand mycobacteriosis. Thank you for your concern.


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