Reports from anglers and fishermen, and scientific data, both indicate that the Chesapeake striped bass population is declining, and analyses by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission show that the striped bass population along the Atlantic Coast is also decreasing. Every year, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources reports on the species by tracking an index of juvenile striped bass. The survey began in 1954. Since then, the average index is 11.5 (mean catch per haul); the index in fall 2020 was 2.5. In the last decade, six years have been below average. That means there are fewer fish to grow into the spawning stock.
The striped bass population was extremely low in the 1980s. A complete moratorium on both commercial and recreational fishing was enacted to let the population rebound. Resource managers are once again taking proactive measures to protect the population. This is especially important in the Chesapeake, because up to 80 percent of the coastal population is spawned in the Bay’s tributaries.
For Chesapeake anglers, the start to the trophy season this year was about two weeks later than usual. Trophy season started on May 1 in Maryland waters, and Maryland does not allow targeting of striped bass at all in April—not even for catch and release. Also, Maryland anglers are prohibited from targeting bass from July 16 to 31 because at that time of year, air and water temperatures are high and oxygen levels in the water are often low. Even when released, fish that are caught in those conditions are stressed and often do not survive. Virginia does not have a trophy season this spring but anglers can target fish from 20 to 28 inches in the Bay beginning May 16, and there is no summer season in the Bay. Striped bass spawning begins in the spring. Chesapeake Bay spawning and nursery areas, like the Potomac, Choptank, and James rivers and Susquehanna Flats, produce most of the East Coast’s migratory striped bass. The Delaware River and Hudson River also contribute significantly.
NOAA Fisheries is helping to find out more about what may be affecting striped bass numbers by funding scientists to carry out research into when and where striped bass migrate. This can help resource managers do a more accurate job when they set regulations that are area or time-specific. Scientists are also studying the nursery habitats that juvenile striped bass need to survive and grow. The Chesapeake Bay Program is funding a Virginia Institute of Marine Science project that is using data from Maryland and Virginia that was gathered during seine surveys about juvenile striped bass. They are also using information from trawl surveys. Through the Cooperative Institute for the North Atlantic Region, NOAA is funding population studies on Chesapeake stripers that will improve understanding of what drives population changes.
This year, NOAA is partnering with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and Maryland Department of Natural Resources to deploy two arrays of acoustic telemetry receivers, one crossing the mouth of the Bay, the other near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge near Annapolis. These receivers will let researchers know when fish that have special tags attached to them swim near the receivers, helping researchers learn more about their migration habits. NOAA is also supporting research on striped bass forage such as bay anchovies and sea worms, which bass need to grow and survive.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission oversees the overall Atlantic striped bass population. In 2019, the Commission determined that striped bass have been overfished in recent years. In response to that determination, they implemented an 18 percent reduction in striped bass harvest beginning in 2020. States up and down the East Coast maintain their own fishing regulations for the species, within the framework set by the Commission. Conservation efforts in the Chesapeake can benefit the entire East Coast population.