Striped Bass (Rockfish)

striped-bass-rockfish-BlairSeltzCBFStaff_458x232Photo by Blair M. Seltz/CBF Staff

Maintaining Our "Restored" Striped Bass Population

Striped bass are often seen as the greatest success story of the Chesapeake Bay. Populations of this iconic sport fish plummeted in the 1970s and early 1980s, but then rebounded because of tightened catch restrictions in a dozen states from 1985 to 1990, including a moratorium on catching them in Maryland, Virginia and other states.

A New Decline

Today, we face a new decline, albeit one that has not taken "stripers" anywhere near as low as last time. According to the latest science developed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission—a regional fisheries management board—the Atlantic striped bass stock (which includes populations from the Bay and Delaware and Hudson Rivers) has been declining since 2004 when it was at an all-time peak. Concurrently, recreational catches have dropped steadily, especially at the edges of the range of the species in New England and North Carolina—shrinking of a fish's range is a sure sign of decline in the population. To protect this important species and reverse the decline, the commission recently voted to consider a reduction in the allowable catch of striped bass by up to 25 percent beginning in 2015.

CBF Senior Fisheries Scientist Bill Goldsborough, who serves on the commission, said that cutbacks would be a wise move. He said the Atlantic states need to move beyond the "wait-for-a-crisis" style of fisheries management that allowed the rockfish crash in the early 1980s and instead adopt a preventative style.

Water Pollution and Poor Diet

Goldsborough explained that water pollution and poor diet may be partly to blame for the recent decline in striped bass. "Their favorite food, menhaden, is at an all-time low, and that appears to be causing problems that we see in the Chesapeake's resident striped bass," Goldsborough said. "They’re skinny, they're diseased, and they're dying at a faster rate, in part because they are not getting enough good nutritious food to eat."

So where is the striped bass' food—these smaller fish, the menhaden—going? Many are being caught by an industrial fishing fleet out of Virginia, which processes them to make livestock and fish feed, fish oil pills, and other products. Virginia is the only state on the coast that still allows this industrial fishing.

Without enough nutrients from menhaden, and stressed by poor water quality, some scientists believe the immune systems of striped bass are becoming suppressed. The theory is that weakened disease-fighting systems make stripers more likely to become ill with a chronic wasting disease called mycobacteriosis, which infects as much as 70 percent of the Bay's striped bass.

The disease is caused by bacteria that are found nearly everywhere in the water and sediment, said Dr. Wolfgang Vogelbein of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. "We feel that these environmental bacteria…are opportunists, and that disease outbreaks are stress-related," said Dr. Vogelbein, who discovered mycobacteriosis in striped bass in 1997. His lab is now studying the possible link between mycobacteriosis, stress in fish, and low-oxygen "dead zones," often caused by pollution.

Preventing Another Crash

Tom O'Connell, Fisheries Director for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, noted that the Atlantic states are also considering limits on catching menhaden as a way to prevent another striper population crash.

"The last thing we want to do is get back into a situation where we are faced with a moratorium. Nobody wants to do that," O'Connell said. "Some modest adjustments today would help avoid future significant actions."

In other words, an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of sustainable fishing.

Disappearing at an Alarming Rate

Striped bass (rockfish) eating menhaden.  Courtesy The Pew Charitable Trusts

Seventy percent of an adult rockfish's diet historically has been filled by menhaden. Today that's down to eight percent. What is causing the menhaden population to plummet and what can we do about it? Read More

In the News

12.07.16 - Commission seeking public input on menhaden management plan

12.03.16 - Big changes in the air over little menhaden

12.03.16 - The more menhaden the better

11.29.16 - Two meetings on menhaden will put a big spotlight on a little fish

11.07.16 - Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Goldsborough to retire next month

11.06.16 - Bass anglers can still experience rewarding days on Susquehanna River

10.28.16 - Fisheries Commission raises menhaden catch limits

10.28.16 - Video Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Votes to Increase Menhaden Quotas

10.27.16 - Fisheries panel, after failed last try, agrees on increase in menhaden harvest

10.27.16 - Regulators increase menhaden quota, which could help ease bait fish shortage

10.26.16 - Menhaden catch cap eased, pleasing no one

10.25.16 - A waypoint towards Atlantic fisheries recovery

10.18.16 - Video Chasing gulls chasing the Chesapeake Bay anchovy

10.13.16 - Chesapeake Bay has its own king crab: Giant blue is caught in Harford County

10.13.16 - High school students on Maryland boat tour encounter massive blue crab

10.12.16 - Giant blue crab caught by Maryland high school students

10.11.16 - Giant Blue Crab in the Chesapeake Bay

10.11.16 - Check out this giant crab found near Havre de Grace

09.22.16 - PA fish official battles other agencies over status of Susquehanna

09.22.16 - Saving the Susquehanna River

09.16.16 - Bad news for black bass

09.15.16 - Smoots Bay project looking for volunteers this weekend

08.31.16 - Audio available The Atlantic Sturgeon could be the poster fish for Chesapeake Bay health

08.28.16 - Pollutants detected in waterways popular among trout anglers

08.20.16 - Offshore trawler bycatch suspected in disappearance of shad

08.09.16 - Drought having negative impact on fishing

08.09.16 - DEP ruling impaired

08.07.16 - Agency needs more data to declare the Susquehanna 'impaired'

08.09.16 - Drought having negative impact on fishing

08.06.16 - ASFMC board punts on bunker decision

08.04.16 - Atlantic fisheries panel can't agree on menhaden limits

08.04.16 - Regulators fail to decide on 2017 Atlantic menhaden harvest cap

07.29.16 - Susquehanna ailing but not impaired, Pennsylvania says

07.24.16 - NOAA deploys another smart buoy in the Bay

07.19.16 - Catfish Blues: Rule Threatens Native Species

07.18.16 - Video Dolphins making a splash in rivers near Annapolis

07.11.16 - Dinosaurs of the Chesapeake Bay

06.27.16 - Maryland watermen banned for life following rockfish poaching convictions

06.19.16 - Will a great year for Chesapeake Bay crabs mean a great year for watermen?

06.15.16 - Long slog ahead for new attempt to move shad past Conowingo, other dams

06.14.16 - A comeback on the Bay

06.05.16 - Horseshoe crabs crawl back

05.18.16 - Chesapeake blue crab rebound 'a success story'

04.13.16 - Maryland set to conduct more detailed oyster survey after Assembly passes controversial bill

04.13.16 - Maryland lawmakers act on climate change, land preservation, pollinators, and oysters

04.13.16 - Video Department of Natural Resources survey shows healthy crab population

04.13.16 - The Chesapeake Bay blue crab population is up 35 percent

04.12.16 - Video Blue crab population increase could lead to looser regulations

04.12.16 - DNR: crab populations up

04.12.16 - Video Crab survey shows growing population in Chesapeake

04.12.16 - Video Chesapeake blue crab population grows 35 percent; DNR predicts 'robust' season

04.12.16 - Dredge survey finds Bay crab stocks up

03.08.16 - Sexual oddities plague bass in Chesapeake Bay tributaries

01.29.16 - Crabbers find pots of money in abandoned fishing gear

01.23.16 - Menhaden discussion likely not going away anytime soon

01.11.16 - Reef ball project aims to return habitat, fish to Smoots Bay area of Potomac River

01.07.16 - Little fish tops big list of local environmental issues facing Virginia lawmakers

01.04.16 - Little fish, big issues

01.03.16 - Study of sick bass in Susquehanna cites endocrine disrupters

12.27.15 - Maryland DNR asks Army Corp to delay Tred Avon oyster restoration work

12.27.15 - Conservation groups and legislators look to change menhaden regulations

12.23.15 - Environmentalists threaten to sue to protect yellow perch spawning area

12.15.15 - Susquehanna bass hit by herbicides and hormones

12.15.15 - DEP: Herbicides, parasites likely causes of Susquehanna bass decline

12.03.15 - Sportsmen and women play vital roles in conservation

11.20.15 - Environmental groups: Bad time to drop 'rain tax' amid high fish kills in Md.

11.13.15 - Video Toxic algae suspended in big Middle River fish kill

11.13.15 - Bay foundation fighting for menhaden

09.25.15 - 'Stalking' tactics raise ire of charter skippers

09.25.15 - Elizabeth River Project targets Eastern Branch in clean-up efforts

08.12.15 - Conowingo Dam fish-lift overhaul urged to restore Susquehanna's shad, eels

08.08.15 - Crabby governors duel over Chesapeake delicacy

07.01.15 - Experts debate whether rays are fishery threat

06.02.15 - This summer, the crab bake you save may be your own

05.29.15 - Is this year's bluefish run a sign of climate change?

05.09.15 - Will a bass with cancer be enough to change the Department of Environmental Protection's mind about the Susquehanna River?

05.07.15 - Fisheries commission relaxes limits on menhaden

05.06.15 - Catch cap eased on menhaden, 'backbone' of East Coast fisheries

05.06.15 - Menhaden vote means jobs in Reedville

05.05.15 - CBF Press Statement CBF Issues Statement on ASMFC's Menhaden Actions

05.05.15 - Smallmouth Bass with Cancer Caught in Pennsylvania's Susquehanna River

05.04.15 - CBF Press Statement Bay Foundation: Don't Raise Menhaden Catch Quotas without Ecological Safeguards

04.28.15 - Bay's crabs rebounding, survey finds

04.28.15 - Survey shows crab population up

04.27.15 -CBF Press Statement CBF Issues Statement on the Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey Results

04.27.15 - Chesapeake's crab numbers rise first time in three years

04.27.15 - Report: Blue crab population experiencing modest growth

04.27.15 - Female crab population still worrisome

04.26.15 - Can the Chesapeake Bay (and its Signature Blue Crabs) Recover?

04.18.15 - 'Legends of the Fly' event expanding in second year

04.11.15 - Virginia's aquaculture oyster, clam harvests set records

The Bay’s Top Commercial Fisheries in 1960

#1 Menhaden
#2 Blue Crab
#3 Oyster
#4 River Herring
#5 Striped Bass
#6 Soft Clam
#7 Croaker
#8 Spot
#9 Summer Flounder
#10 Catfish

The Bay's Top Commercial Fisheries in 2012*

#1 Menhaden
#2 Blue Crab
#3 Croaker
#4 Striped Bass
#5 Spot
#6 Catfish
#7 Summer Flounder
#8 White Perch
#9 Oyster (Shucked Meats(
#10 Bluefish

* Find out more about today's top fisheries.

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