The State of Today's Striped Bass Fishery

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"It's time to make some adjustments" would be the best way to describe the upcoming management of the region's striped bass fishery, a favorite of anglers and watermen alike. The good news is that the number of young fish entering the population is still above the long-term average. The not-so-good news is that the number of larger fish has been falling for a number of years. Fisheries managers will need to make some changes to stem this decline in the coming years.

Overfishing devastated the Chesapeake’s rockfish stocks in the 1970s, but intensive conservation efforts in the 1980s, ‘90s, and ‘00s restored them to peak historical levels. Rigorous interstate management plans coordinated and enforced by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission deserve much of the credit for the rebound. However, a new scientific assessment of the population to be adopted in 2019 is likely to indicate that "the stock is overfished, and overfishing is occurring." Fortunately, slightly above average recruitment (spawns) in 2017 and 2018 will help to begin bringing the numbers back up as these fish mature.

In addition, fishery managers from Maine to North Carolina, in the migratory range of Chesapeake rockfish, have cut back both recreational and commercial harvests to help reverse the decline. Concerns remain that striped bass may not have enough food in the form of Atlantic menhaden (see above)—an ecologically rich little fish and the preferred food of striped bass. Low summer dissolved oxygen conditions in the Chesapeake (driven by pollution-fueled algae blooms) sometimes force the young fish that stay here into waters with higher temperatures than they prefer, causing stress that can lead to bacterial infections. The bottom line, though, is that there are beautiful rockfish out there to catch and celebrate, and we have the scientific tools to manage them sustainably. We need to continue to make adjustments to our management strategy and never take them for granted as we once did.

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