For the fifth consecutive year, juvenile striped bass numbers remained far below average in Maryland with the 2023 index of 1.0 strikingly low compared to the long-term average of 11.3. Virginia’s results were also significantly lower this year, with a mean value of 4.25 fish, which is well below the average of 7.77, according to Maryland and Virginia results released today.
The Virginia Institute of Marine Science and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources conduct annual surveys of the juvenile striped bass population in the Chesapeake Bay that estimate recruitment, which refers to the number of surviving fish that were spawned in the spring. A video showing how the survey is conducted is available at this link.
Striped bass populations on the East Coast are struggling to recover from a dramatic decline in recent years. Compounding the issue, recreational harvest pressure on striped bass along the Atlantic Coast in 2022 was estimated to be nearly double that of previous years. This led the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in May to institute an emergency action for the striped bass fishery, which decreased the maximum size limit for most striped bass fisheries to 31 inches.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation Senior Regional Ecosystem Scientist Chris Moore issued the following statement:
“This disturbing trend makes clear that rebuilding the striped bass population is not guaranteed. With five years of poor recruitment on the books, there will be fewer spawning adult fish left to help the population recover. As managers consider next steps, we urge ASMFC and state agencies to take immediate conservation actions to address increased harvest mortality, reduce the removals of large spawning fish, and to protect fish during the times of year when they are most vulnerable.
“In the summer, warm water temperatures and low oxygen levels dramatically increase stress on striped bass, rendering shallow, estuarine nursery habitats, like Chesapeake Bay less hospitable. Climate change is making this problem worse.
“To increase survival, states must work with all fishery sectors to limit striped bass mortality through quota modifications, summer season closures, and addressing fisheries that target fish before they spawn. Anglers should also use careful catch and release techniques that keep released fish alive or target other species when available to reduce stress on striped bass populations.”