Getting "Run Off" the Beach Because of Runoff
Environmental Literacy Showcased in Virginia

Rockfish: Down But Not Out

Rockfish for blogThe number of adult rockfish (striped bass) has been declining for 10 years and is about to drop below the level that means it is officially "overfished." This is the primary finding of the latest scientific analysis of the striped bass "stock," which includes fish spawned in the Hudson and Delaware Rivers as well as the Chesapeake. In fact, Chesapeake-born rockfish migrate all the way to Maine and make up about 75 percent of the total catch.

Recreational and commercial fishermen pursue striped bass from Maine to North Carolina, making it one of the most sought-after fish along the coast. However catches have been declining steadily in recent years. These states are currently working together under the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) to craft a response to the situation that will maintain the stock at a level that will support these valuable fisheries.

But the Bay's rockfish population is far from collapsing. A few things to keep in mind: 

    1. First, while the amount of spawning-age female rockfish (the "spawning stock") is dropping into the overfished range, this does not mean we face reproductive failure. The spawning stock threshold is set conservatively at the level it was in 1995 when the stock was declared recovered from the severe decline of the 1970s and 80s. Scientists knew that this was a level from which the stock could recover, because it did so very well. (In fact, we set a record for reproduction in 1993, and then we shattered that record in 1996.) A favorable spawning pattern continued in the Bay through 2003 and then dropped off until 2011. This period of lower reproduction is the main reason for the stock decline.

    2. Second, in 2011 Chesapeake rockfish had an excellent spawn producing the fourth highest number of juveniles on record. This very strong "year class" will mature in the next few years and join the spawning stock, helping turn the trajectory back upward

How much and how soon we need to conserve striped bass in the short term to boost this recovery is the question currently before the ASMFC. The Commission is deliberating the nature of the fishing restrictions that will be required under an updated fishery management plan for striped bass.

A draft striped bass management plan that includes a number of options for cutting back the catch is available for public comment through September. The goal is to reduce the amount of fishing to the level that will bring the population up to a healthier, more stable state over time (AKA the target level). The main decision among the options presented is whether to do it in one year, which would require a 25 percent cutback, or spread it across three years at a rate of 17 percent. We at CBF believe that the three-year phase-in at 17 percent is an appropriate management measure. It provides the same level of conservation after three years without inordinate socio-economic impacts. Click here for more information and to submit your own comments about this important issue.

Perhaps more critical for Chesapeake Bay is the quality of the habitat the Bay provides for rockfish during their first four to six years when they are year-round residents in the Bay before joining the annual coastal migration. Exposure to low dissolved oxygen, high summer water temperatures, diminished grass beds and oyster reefs, and lack of sufficient food, especially their favorite forage fish, Atlantic menhaden, has taken a toll on these fish. In fact, scientists have documented widespread occurrence of a serious disease called mycobacteriosisamong resident stripers that likely results from poor water quality and nutrition. And fishery managers now assume a higher mortality rate for those fish in their population modeling—in effect we are having to adjust to a degraded Bay.

Therefore, implementing the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, restoring habitat, and conserving forage fish are essential to maintaining healthy populations of rockfish and all the other Bay fish and shellfish we value.

—Bill Goldsborough, CBF’s Director of Fisheries

Click here for a list of scheduled public hearings on striped bass management. 

Help us get the word out about the state of the rockfish by sharing the above infographic with your friends and family! 

Click here to share on Facebook!

Share on Twitter


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Avril Purvis

I'm happy this is going to be the rule for 2015. We are over fishing is many places and I'm hoping this rule will be considered for any other species of any kind.

Katrina Kirby

This is way too far important & crucial to ignore. We must remain mindful of this dilemma everywhere. No matter the species we should never pollute their environments, or over fish to any extent that it will create less abundance, or goodness forbid a possible extinction of any species. Man was not put here to destroy what came before us, so please preserve all species of every kind & in every ecosystem. It is too important & should never be destroyed. In a word, PRESERVE!!

Shawn Kimbro

As a 10-year member of CBF, I am very disappointed that we are allowing "socio-economic impacts" to drive our position on such an important conservation issue as protecting our striped bass. Please reconsider. Fishermen up and down the Atlantic coast are seeing dramatic declines. We need the maximum conservation of 25% in the first year, not a wishy-washy 17% phased in as CBF is recommending. Allowing economic impacts to justify the depletion of a species is like burning a Renaissance painting for firewood. It's worth more than that.


Where on earth do you find a 100 pound rock??? The world record is 81 pounds.

Marge Terry

They may be down - AS IS EVERY OTHER LIVING ORGANISM THAT IS/WAS in the bay - have been catching rockfish for several years now in all sizes that are diseased - water quality or too may of them -- where are the blow toads - as a kid on the bay would have never thought to see Spanish Mackeral or Pelicans in/on the bay - maybe if there was a total absolution of allowing the netting of menhaden within the bay and offshore (including other countries) that little fish source would be able to recover - where are the grass beds that the eels and crabs live in for a food source - HELLO - sediment/polution - see it every day - fields too close to water for nitrogen run off - Highway depts ditching into creeks that feed DIRECTLY into the bay - TRASH - just like the highways, that no one contains or bothers to notice - (Hicksville RD/Hicks RD in Mathews Co., VA just one small example)- the disrespect that people in general show for their world but still DEMAND to have the profits that are allowed by the state/federal government. Maybe, if I DON'T KNOW WHO had the guts to totally shut everything down for a few years - but can't because of the uproar from the public - loss of jobs, companies going belly up - the snowball effect. We are in a bad way and don't see a way to return - baywise and worldwide

joseph pollitt

Please protect the rockfish...

David Shaw

In addition to drastically limiting the amount of Menhaden that is harvested in the Lower bay, I would propose that a moratorium be placed on the Rockfish as we did back in the early 80's. We may not need it to last for 5 years as it did back then but one to two years may be sufficient. Another option would be to ban the "Catch and Release" season on the Flats as that would prevent some of the fish to be mortality injured in the process.

Judy Foster

As an every day person the solutions seems just common sense. Not just for Rockfish but all living things. It is not for us to simply consume until there's nothing left. Each of us has a responsibility to do our part in our daily lives to preserve and conserve. Its not that difficult.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)