Get To Know The Striped Bass: Morone Saxatilis
Scientists call them Morone Saxatilis. Fishermen up and down the East Coast call them Stripers. When a a fishermen adds an extra “p” he may inadvertently cause a domestic dispute with his wife, girlfriend or significant other. When anglers refer to “the Rock” they are not talking about Alcatraz. These amazing fighters are one of the top recreational sportfish on the Eastern Seaboard. Their natural range extends from the St. Lawrence River in Canada to the St. John’s River in Florida.
They have been successfully introduced into inland impoundments like Lanier, Hartwell, Powell, Mead, Norman, Havasu, Cumberland, Murray, Texoma, Raystown and Smith Mountain. Recent fish census on Lake Powell indicate that perhaps stripers have done too well with fish limits being off until the population has thinned. Stripers were successfully introduced to the Pacific coast in 1879 by stocking 133 yearling fish in San Francisco Bay. These fish were transported from New Jersey to California by train.
In the east, particularly the Chesapeake and Delaware watershed, stripers were heavily overfished.
Thanks to fishing moratoriums in Maryland and Virginia in the late 80’s and good management practices in those and other states, there are now sustainable population levels up and down the coast. Still, female spawning stock (the population of females age 4 and up) along the Atlantic coast must be closely monitored to maintain the fishery as stripers are one of the most sought-after species for recreational anglers fishing saltwater and the rivers that make up their spawing habitat. In the ten year period ending in December 2014, an estimated 26.2 million pounds of fish were taken by coastal anglers of which 75-80% were striped bass.
Commercial fishermen are permitted to harvest stripers with a variety of gear including gill nets. The commercial harvest was 6.7 million pounds making up approximately 59% of the commercial haul along the Atlantic coast. Fortunately, Striped Bass are grown in many aquaculture operations around the United States. In 2005, almost 60% of all striped bass sold in the United States were grown in aquaculture. Historically, the fishery for striped bass was one of the most important on the Atlantic coast. Stripers helped the earliest colonial settlements keep from starvation when their agricultural and husbandry attempts failed to sustain the population. They were once so plentiful they were used to fertilize fields, but because of their food value, such use was banned by the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1649. During the post war/baby boom years, overfishing and poor environmental conditions led to the collapse of the fishery. By the 1980s wide spread moratoriums were required to rebuild the fishery. Through good management practices coordinated by federal and state agencies, as well as general support by the commercial and recreational fishermen, the stock was considered restored as of 1995.
Despite the success of the striped bass management program, concern about their health still remains. One disease of particular concern is mycobacteriosis, a bacterial infection that results in a variety of symptoms including skin lesions, stunted growth, tissue destruction, and formation of scar tissue in one or more organs. Mortality rates from this disease are not yet known, but scientists working to monitor and control this situation. There is also concern regarding the nutritional needs of striped bass. Studies are being conducted to evaluate prey availability and what relation, if any, it might have to the prevalence of disease in the striper population. The most recent stock assessment was completed in October 2016, indicating that the Atlantic Striped Bass stock was not being overfished.
Striped bass are anadromous, meaning they live in the ocean but return to freshwater to spawn. Males mature between the ages of two and four; females mature between the ages of four and eight. Mature females produce large quantities of eggs, which are fertilized by mature males in river spawning areas. Fertilized eggs drift downstream eventually becoming larvae. The larvae begin feeding on microscopic animals during their downstream journey. They mature into juveniles in river deltas and inland coastal sounds and estuaries. Striped Bass typically make their spawning migration from April to June. Juveniles typically remain in the estuaries for two to four years and then migrate out to the Atlantic Ocean where they will spend the majority of their adult life. Important wintering grounds are located from Cape Henry, Virginia, south to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Striped Bass will typically live 30 years. The Chesapeake Bay spawning areas produce the majority of coastal migratory striped bass, with significant contributions from the Delaware River and Hudson River stocks.
Growth is more rapid during the second and third years of life before they reach sexual maturity. After age four, growth may be 2.5 to 3 inches a year until age eight. Starting at age four, females grow faster than males. Growth occurs between April and October. The rate of growth depends on the forage available. Striped Bass feed on fish larvae, insects, worms, anchovy, spot, menhaden(bunker), herring, shad, white perch, and yellow perch. Stripers generally grow up to 59 inches with weights from 55-77 pounds. The largest striped bass on record is a 125-pound female netted off North Carolina in 1891.
Striped bass are of significant value for sport fishing. A variety of angling methods are used, including trolling and surf casting with topwater lures, as well as bait casting with live and dead bait. Striped bass will take a number of live baits, including bunker, clams, eels, sandworms, herring, bloodworms, mackerel, and shad, with the last being an excellent bait for freshwater fishing. The largest striped bass taken by angling was an 81.9 lb. fish caught on a boat in Long Island Sound, off Westbrook, Connecticut. This world record fish was taken by Gregory Myerson on August 4, 2011. The fish took a drifted live eel bait, and fought for 20 minutes before being boated. The fish measured 54″ length and had a girth of 36″. The International Game Fish
Association declared Myerson’s catch the world record striped bass on October 19, 2011
Striped bass have been hybridized with white bass to produce hybrid striped bass also known as wipers and white rock bass. These hybrids have been stocked in many freshwater areas across the US. These should not be confused with landlocked stripers. The fact that stripers are anadromous led some individual populations to become “landlocked” during dam constructions. The first area where this was documented was at the Santee-Cooper River in SC. during the construction of the Lakes Moultrie and Marion. The survival and growth of these fish led to many other landlocked introductions. The landlocked record, a 70.6 lbs. fish, was caught in February 2013 by James Bramlett on the Black Warrior River impoundment in Alabama. This fish had a length of 44 inches and a girth of 37.75 inches.
Striped bass have also been introduced into waters in Ecuador, Iran, Latvia, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, and Turkey,for sport and aquaculture.
iBass360 Brand Manager and Blog Editor Eric Evans splits his time between Doylestown PA (Delaware River) and Southfield MI (Lake St. Clair). Eric has fished from Mexico to Maylasia and South Africa to Mozambique as well as all across the USA. In addition to blog articles, Eric is in charge of the iBass360 social media. He fishes St. Croix Rods, Shimano Reels, Rapala cranbaits, Terminator spinnerbaits, Mepps spinners, Keitech swimbaits and various other soft plastics. He improves his vision of all things fishy with Costa polarized sunglasses. He definitely Lives the Passion!