Striped bass—also known as rockfish or stripers—support one of the most important commercial and recreational fisheries on the Atlantic Coast, and the Chesapeake Bay provides these fish with critical spawning and nursery grounds. To monitor the health of the striped bass population, scientists track the biomass of adult female striped bass and the relative abundance of striped bass that are less than one year old.
In 2017, the biomass of adult female striped bass along the Atlantic Coast weighed an estimated 151 million pounds. This is below the target of 252 million pounds and below the overfished threshold of 202 million pounds. Despite recent declines in biomass, the stock is still above the mid-late 1980s moratorium levels.
Between 2017 and 2018, the relative abundance of juvenile striped bass in Maryland increased in the Choptank and Nanticoke rivers, but decreased in the Upper Bay and Potomac River. In Virginia, between 2017 and 2018, the relative abundance of juvenile striped bass was average in the York and James rivers, and above average in the Rappahannock River.
To survey young striped bass, scientists take seine net samples in noted striped bass spawning areas. The average number of striped bass that are less than one year old caught in each seine haul becomes the juvenile striped bass abundance index. These young-of-the-year fish will grow to a fishable size in three to four years.
Striped bass reproductive success varies from year to year. Between 2017 and 2018, the abundance index rose slightly from 13.2 to 14.8 in Maryland waters, which is above the long-term average. In Virginia waters, the abundance index rose from 9.17 to 10.72, which is around the long-term average.
These juvenile striped bass abundance indices serve as early indicators of future adult fish abundance and help managers predict the amount of adult fish that will be available for commercial and recreational fishermen. Occasional strong years for striped bass spawning play a major role in keeping the population healthy.
Multi-state fishing bans set in the late 1980s and harvest limits set in the 1990s were critical to rebuilding the striped bass stock from its historic mid-1980s lows. Currently, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) works to ensure long-term recovery for Atlantic striped bass coast-wide and regularly evaluates the status of the population through stock assessments. The most recent stock assessment released in 2019 will guide decision making over the next few years to support striped bass fisheries management.
Based on the best available science, ASMFC sets the strategies for keeping striped bass harvest sustainable. State partners also play an important role tracking harvest and population health in Maryland and Virginia waters.