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The increase in the number of smaller stripers was encouraging, but a continuing decline in big bass remains a concern.
By Brad Burns  |  January 17, 2017
Big stripers were much harder to find in 2016 according to the majority of those surveyed.

Striped bass anglers from North Carolina to Maine, responding to the 14th annual fishing survey from the national striped bass conservation organization Stripers Forever had mixed reactions to the fishing they experienced during 2016. Overall there was some modest improvement in sentiment with only 66% reporting the fishing as worse, or much worse than during the past 5 years. That is improved from 81% in 2015. “The improvement seems to have come”, says Brad Burns, President of Stripers Forever, “from more small bass being available along the coast in the early part of the season.” In both 2015 and 2016 most anglers reported that the fish were smaller than they were used to catching, but the number of anglers who reported improved hourly catch rates increased in 2016. With the improvement in catches we also saw a modest increase in survey participation with 643 up from 614 the previous year.

“The improvement seemed limited to the number of smaller fish anglers found available in the early season” said Burns. We heard comments from some very experienced anglers and guides who said that large bass were much harder to find. One highly experienced recreational angler from Martha’s Vineyard, fishing from the beach, landed keeper size – 28” or larger – stripers on 23% of his outings in 2016. That is by far the lowest ever for him, and is down from a 54% average from 2002 through 2014. With the older year classes declining in numbers there is no likely reversal for that negative trend.

The 2016 YOY survey produced one of the smallest striped bass year classes on record. The coastal commercial fishery is still focused on killing the large breeder size fish. At best the situation is very precarious. A clear majority of anglers responding to the 2016 Stripers Forever survey believe that the large stripers so vital to future spawning should not be harvested, and that a high percentage of the current commercial catch should be set aside for conservation. Further, 77% of all Stripers Forever members are willing to buy a striper stamp to finance a buyout of the commercial striped bass fishery.

The complete results of the annual survey and all comments from both guides and anglers are available for viewing under News at www.stripersforever.org. For more information e-mail stripers@stripersforever.org.