Know Your Seafood: Striped Bass


Striped bass (Morone saaitilis) — also called striper, rockfish, and linesider — has a habitat ranging the entire east coast of North America. This anadromous species hatches in fresh water but spends most of its adult life in salt water, returning to fresh water when mature to spawn. Stripers spawn primarily in four major bodies of water: The Chesapeake Bay, Mass Bay/Cape Cod, The Delaware River, and The Hudson River. As young stripers grow and become heartier, they become more able to withstand colder and deeper waters, moving further northward and offshore. These skilled hunters also shift seasonally as bait fish migrate with changing water temperatures. Although a striper’s lunch of choice is normally common bait fish like herring and mackerel, they have also been known to snack on a variety of interesting creatures, including lobsters and crabs. When healthy, the fish can live as long as 30 years! While the common large size of mature adult fish is 120 cm (3.9 feet), some fish have been measured as large as an impressive 200 cm (6.5 feet).

Recreational and Commercial Fisheries

Striped bass has been a prized game fish for centuries. Its voracious appetite and strong, streamlined form make it a formidable fight on the end of a rod and reel. Recreational fishermen spanning the eastern coast of North America have built entire sub-cultures around fishing for these creatures of the deep. BassTournaments for the longest and largest stripers are highlights of the summer for many recreational fishermen each year. Surfcasting, fly fishing in coastal rivers, and deep sea fishing are all fun and popular methods used to catch this special class of sea bass.

Commercial fisheries for striper can also be found up and down the east coast. The main method for catching stripers in these commercial fisheries in the Northeast is via rod and reel off small-scale fishing boats. This method of fishing is highly effective at preserving the quality of this prized game fish.

Striped Bass Regulations

Since striper stays relatively close to the coastline, most regulations governing the catch and sale of the species are managed by individual states. The result is that minimum size lengths and other restrictions vary from state to state. For example, for the summer of 2013, the minimum size length for a “keeper” in the commercial striped bass fishery in Massachusetts and Rhode Island is 34” while the minimum size limit in the state of Maryland is only 24”. Similar inconsistencies exist in the regulation of recreational fisheries in the states where stripers can be caught.

While this segmented regulatory framework can present issues for the overarching management of the species, efforts have been made on two separate fronts to protect the vitality and ensure the sustainability of this species. Bass2First, in an effort to ensure that this prized game fish is available for harvest in years to come, fishermen themselves have taken unprecedented efforts to intensify regulations and limit takes of striped bass. This fishing lobby is known for holding meetings with state and federal fishing regulators to ensure that the species is being fished in a sustainable manner. During times when the stock has witnessed trends of decline, many fishermen have spoken up for the need to make regulations more stringent.

Aside from these coordinated self-management movements, a more formal regulatory body also exists to ensure that coastal species like striped bass are managed in a cohesive and comprehensive manner. This regulatory body is called the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and was formed in 1942 in a collaborative effort by the 15 coastal Atlantic states. This organization is responsible for conducting stock assessments and managing comprehensive Fisheries Management Plans for each of the species it oversees. In the case of striped bass, this regulatory action includes issuing specific allocations and regulatory guidance from states from Maine to North Carolina. While individual states are ultimately responsible for setting their own restrictions for the species, the AFMFC ensures that each individual state’s regulations make sense in the greater scheme of managing this important species.

For more information, visit http://www.asmfc.org/.

Photo credits:

Photo 1, www.bassnblue.com

Photo 2, www.wikipedia.com