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THE 2019 NORTHEAST STRIPED BASS STUDY

Five years after removing striped bass from the Dream Boat Fishing Challenge, The Fisherman Magazine partners up with Gray FishTag Research and Navionics in a ground-breaking research program to better understand the species.
By Michael Caruso
THE 2019 NORTHEAST STRIPED BASS STUDY
Together at the Miami International Boat Show, Bill Dobbelaer of Grays Fish Tag Research (left), Paul Michele of Navionics (middle) and Michael Caruso of The Fisherman Magazine (right) discuss the launch of the 2019 satellite tagging study on striped bass.

Five years ago The Fisherman Magazine made a tough decision to remove striped bass from Dream Boat Fishing Challenge eligibility, despite a lot of pressure to have them remain an eligible species. Based on what we were seeing and hearing from all along the Striper Coast, we knew then that it was the right thing to do. Given the results of the preliminary striped bass assessment (the final assessment is not due out until May) which indicated striped bass are being overfished and experiencing overfishing, we are even more committed to doing our part to help conserve this valuable resource. A lot of people have come around to that way of thinking, and we’re happy to see many anglers lining up to address the issues confronting striped bass, including the possibility that their range has expanded further north and/or to offshore waters.

Without a doubt, striped bass are the most important saltwater gamefish along the Atlantic Coast and they serve as the target species for tens of thousands of anglers from some of the most populous cities in the country, including Boston, New York and Philadelphia. They provide recreational opportunities from the quietest stretches of beach and marshlands, to city bulkheads, rivers and major shipping channels.

Despite their status as a top gamefish and the tremendous revenue generated by those who seek them, they are confronted with some serious management challenges. For all that we know about recruitment in spawning estuaries like the Chesapeake, Hudson and Delaware, not to mention the overall population dynamics, there is still much we don’t know. As is so often the case with fisheries management, many of the impossible questions come from the fact that particular answers seem to lie beyond the scope of our current scientific tools.

As coastal fishermen, we live and die by the term “best available science,” and are often critical whenever decisions are made where science seems flawed or lacking. In many cases, the disconnect leaves us divided as a community, and often impedes the ability to constructively do what’s best for the fish, those who seek them, and the recreational fishing industry alike. Knowledge is power, and the endless socio-political debates regarding striped bass often waste time and prevent smart, motivated individuals from working together as a team in the best interest of the entire fishery. As a world-class gamefish, striped bass truly deserve more, and we believe that should include the best measurement tools available in the world today.

Removing striped bass from the Dream Boat Fishing Challenge in 2015 was just a start. While much of the early criticism has turned around to understanding the need for better protection and conservation of those big, old, fat, fecund, female fish – affectionately known as BOFFFFs – we also felt that there was more that we could do. That’s why I’m excited and proud to announce something that gives us a chance to bring striped bass research to a higher level. Together, Gray FishTag Research, Navionics and The Fisherman Magazine are developing a satellite tagging study for striped bass with a forward-looking objective to pioneer a new level of understanding about striped bass.

Later this spring, we’ll be working together to tag a pair of BOFFFF stripers with state-of-the-art satellite tags as they begin their spring migration from the Hudson River. These satellite tags are cutting edge, so our expectations for better understanding striped bass behavior and distribution are pretty high. Thanks to considerable funding provided by Navionics, we’ll be utilizing the best satellite tag technology in the field today to collect data about the behavior and long-distance movement of striped bass.

A high level plan developed by Bill Dobbelaer and Leah Baumwell of Gray FishTag Research, Paul Michele of Navionics, and our own team at The Fisherman including Fred Golofaro, Jim Hutchinson, Toby Lapinski and myself, will be explained in more detail in our April edition. But based on the latest ASFMC information (see page 6G – Striped Bass Assessment Update – in the March edition of The Fisherman Magazine) and the current state of the striped bass fishery, I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know what we hope to accomplish in the future. These compact, lightweight tags won’t impede the behavior of the fish in any way, and after around 5 months the tag is designed to break free, float to the surface, link up to a satellite and begin its data upload. Location, water temperature, and depth data are recorded every minute.

A pair of pop-up archival transmitting tags or MiniPATs will be inserted into a pair of large striped bass from the Hudson River this May in a partnership between Gray’s Fishtag Research, Navionics and The Fisherman Magazine.

Similar satellite tags have been in use all over the world with the majority on large pelagic species, and the most recent studies occurring in Central America for blue marlin and roosterfish. As a Gray FishTag board member, I’ve had primary access to their findings and have absolutely been blown away by the ground-breaking discoveries about each species thanks to data provided by these tags. I’m also encouraged by how these data have opened the eyes of fisheries managers in those areas where they’ve been employed.

Will data produced from these high-tech satellite striper tags be of interest to fisheries managers? It’s impossible to tell right now, but that’s also what makes this venture so exciting. What we do know is that this incredible gamefish that we’re all so passionate about deserves more. It’s time to bring a new level of striped bass data to the surface literally, and we’re excited that the story is about to unfold exclusively in The Fisherman Magazine over the next year.

- Michael Caruso, Publisher, The Fisherman Magazine

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