Surveys of striped bass populations in the Chesapeake Bay found unusually large numbers of young stripers, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
“The results are good news for the recreational and commercial anglers who pursue this popular game fish because this year class is expected to grow to fishable size in 3 to 4 years,” the Virginia researchers wrote.
A note of caution, however: striper populations often go up and down, often rising with favorable weather conditions (cold winters and wet springs). So don't read too much into what could be a temporary rise in young stripers, which might not survive in such large numbers.
Water pollution in the Chesapeake Bay continues to create low-oxygen "dead zones" that stress striped bass. And the overfishing of smaller fish that striped bass eat (menhaden), continue to deprive stripers of food they need to remain healthy. Without enough food, stripers have weakened immune systems, and are more vulnerable to an increasingly common wasting disease called mycobacteriosis, scientists theorize.
Both the issue of pollution (especially the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus) and overfishing of menhaden need to be addressed so that healthy populations of striped bass can be sustained over time, according to Chesapeake Bay Foundation fisheries director Bill Goldsborough.
Goldsborough said: "Menhaden are filter feeders that consume plankton, and in turn are food for striped bass and other important fish, as well as marine mammals and water birds like ospreys. They form a critical link in the marine food web of the Atlantic coast, including the Chesapeake Bay."
"Yet in 32 of the past 54 years, we have overfished menhaden, and its population now stands at its lowest point on record—a mere 8 percent of what it once was," Goldsborough said.
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By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation