The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has shared bad news for the striped bass stock. This year’s juvenile striped bass survey, which tracks the reproductive success of the iconic fish in the Chesapeake Bay, resulted in a 2021 young-of-year index of 3.2 which is well below the long-term average of 11.4.
While variable spawning success is a well-known characteristic of the species, consecutive below average indices are a concern. The 2019 and 2020 numbers were 3.37 and 2.48, respectively.
According to the most recent stock assessment, the coastal striped bass population has decreased in size but is still capable of strong reproduction with the right environmental conditions. Biologists continue to examine factors that might limit spawning success.
Atlantic Coast states enacted measures in recent years to reduce harvest and protect striped bass during spawning season. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Striped Bass Management Board is meeting next Wednesday to discuss additional measures to enhance the striped bass population. The virtual meeting (webinar) is open to the public.
Other noteworthy observations of the survey were increased numbers of Atlantic menhaden in the Choptank River and healthy reproduction of American shad in the Potomac River. The survey also documented reproduction of invasive blue catfish in the upper Chesapeake Bay for the first time.
Twenty-two survey sites are located in four major spawning areas: the Choptank, Nanticoke, and Potomac rivers, and the Upper Chesapeake Bay. Biologists visit each site three times per summer, collecting fish with two sweeps of a 100-foot beach seine net. The index represents the average number of recently hatched striped bass, commonly called rockfish, captured in each sample.
The Virginia Institute of Marine Science conducts a similar survey in the southern portion of Chesapeake Bay.