An iconic Chesapeake species continues to rebound

The blue crab may be the first species that comes to mind when you hear ”Chesapeake Bay,” but don’t forget about its most famous finfish, the striped bass, or rockfish. Every year, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences conduct juvenile striped bass surveys to track how the species is reproducing.

This year in Maryland, the survey indicated an index of 13.2, which is above the 64-year average of 11.7. The index is an average of the number of juvenile striped bass taken in each sample. Out of 132 samples, researchers collected more than 33,000 fish of 62 species, including 1,741 juvenile striped bass. The upper Chesapeake Bay—the largest spawning ground for the species—was the most productive area. In Virginia, the survey recorded an average of 8.98, which is close to their historic average of 7.77. Spawning success depends on several factors including water temperature, winter snowfall, spring river flow rates and weather conditions.

Striped bass support some of the Chesapeake Bay’s most popular commercial and recreational fisheries and are considered one of the region’s main predators. In the 1970s and 1980s, they suffered a severe decline due to overfishing, water temperature fluctuations in their spawning grounds, low dissolved oxygen in the Bay (otherwise known as the dead zone) and chemical contaminants and runoff from land and sewage treatment practices impacting water quality. Actions taken by both federal and state governments in the 1980s to revive the species have been successful, however ongoing threats still remain to this day.

For the study, samples of juvenile striped bass, those that are under one year of age, are taken at 22 stations within the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay. Virginia samples at 40 stations within its portion of the Bay, as well as nearby tributaries. The abundance of these young fish serves as an early indicator of future adult fish abundance that is available for recreational and commercial fishermen.

In addition to juvenile striped bass, researchers also count the abundance of other finfish that they collect at their monitoring stations, providing a holistic view of species diversity within the Bay. The survey showed high numbers of white perch in the upper Bay and Nanticoke River, as well as above average shad population.

The survey has been conducted annually since 1954 in Maryland, making it one of the oldest biological studies in the country. It ran in Virginia from 1967-1973 and was reinstated in 1980.

Learn more about striped bass.

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