Ask a striper fisherman how their season was in 2020, and the answer you get will vary widely, depending on where that angler wets their line.
Some areas saw incredible bites (Raritan Bay in spring, Boston Harbor in June/July) while others experienced a big drop-off from recent years (The Cape Cod Canal). Some fishermen found big bass, while others found promising numbers of schoolies.
Overall, however, the combined experiences along the striper coast reflect the reality of the state of the striper stock, and it agrees with the science: Striped bass were declared overfished last year, and in 2020 we’re fishing under a new “slot limit” (28 to 35 inches).
In the beginning of the year, Manchester, Massachusetts-based writer James Behnke published an article sharing the views of some of the Massachusetts North Shore’s fishing guides on the health of our striper fishery and summarizing new regulations from the Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries (DMF). With the 2020 season in the rear-view mirror, he’s debriefed some of the fishing guides about how the season played out and loop back to his sources at the DMF for some perspective on the state of the striper fishery.
Location, timing, environmental factors (notably, record ocean temperatures), and a boom in the local menhaden population all affected individual experiences on the water, but most guides are worried about the state of the striper fishery. Reports of another year of poor spawning success in the Chesapeake Bay have added to their concern.
As Behnke writes: “We need to understand that our subjective appraisal of any given fishing season is a lagging indicator of the health of the striped bass fishery. For those of us who keep any stripers or cause their mortality during the catch-and-release process, we are quite literally “taking stock” from a fishery under threat of collapse. And yet, while fishermen and even fisheries management professionals, focus on the output of the fishery, the biggest threat may be the input.”