Editor’s Log: Baby Stripers - The Fisherman

Editor’s Log: Baby Stripers

As you’ll see in our news briefs section this week, the latest young-of-the-year (YOY) striped bass recruitment numbers are in from the Chesapeake Bay.  According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) the 2021 young-of-year index for juvenile striped bass is 3.2, which is slightly higher than the 2020 survey but still well below the long-term average of 11.4.

Meanwhile in Virginia, researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) called 2021 “another average year class” of new stripers produced in Virginia tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.  The VIMS Juvenile Striped Bass Seine Survey recorded a mean value of 6.30 fish per seine haul in the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay.  That value which scientists refer to as the recruitment index is similar to the historic average of 7.77 fish per seine haul and represents the 9th consecutive year of average or above-average recruitment in Virginia waters.

Counting baby stripers collected by seining in spawning estuaries is a time-consuming process, but it’s one that helps forecast a little bit about our striped bass future.  According to the researchers, the 2021 year class represents the group of fish hatched this past spring that will grow to fishable sizes in approximately 3 to 4 years.   And yes, while the upper Chesapeake data from Maryland seems to paint a grim picture, the Virginia researchers said “although there can be considerable variation in striped bass recruitment among years, the indices observed in recent years suggest that abundance of juvenile striped bass in Virginia has been relatively stable.”

New Jersey also conducts a seine survey to monitor YOY stripers borne out of the Delaware spawning estuary.  While fisheries managers seldom give much consideration to this particular spawning area bordered by Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, I know Delaware River surfcasters will attest that there are quite the number of jumbo striped bass heading upriver to spawn every spring.  According to the NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife (Division), the 2021 Delaware River Seine Survey from August 2 through August 24 showed that out of 117 striped bass caught, 100 measured as young-of-year (or 86% of the total survey).  I hope to have final stats from the 2021 seine efforts later this year. But for reference sake, while there was no seine survey by Division staff in 2020 due to COVID closures, in 2019 – the 40th year of the Division’s survey – the YOY index of 1.15 was an above average recruitment year in the New Jersey that ranking among the top 20 seasons in the 40-year time series.

And how about the Hudson River?  Well, the New York Department of Conservation (NYDEC) has done some river seining as well from July through November, counting and measuring young stripers to help determine a striped bass abundance index in the Hudson River.  While 2021 data is not in yet, the geometric mean number of striped bass per haul in 2020 was well above the long term index; in fact, according to the NYDEC Young of Year Striped Bass Abundance chart, the 2020 spawn was among the top five recruitment classes for the past 35 years.

There’s been a lot of handwringing and worry in the striped bass community of late, with dire warnings about Maryland’s YOY report and the future impact on striped bass.  While the preliminary YOY numbers overall aren’t necessarily a boom, they might not be a bust either.  It’s important to remember that the next striped bass stock assessment update for striped bass is scheduled for 2022, at which point the fishing community will have a better grasp of stock status.

Also, look for details at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission) website at ASMFC.org specifically on striped bass management and a series of meetings coming up related to this iconic fishery.  More on those striper hearings to follow here at The Fisherman.

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