Juvenile striped bass maintain average abundance in Virginia

A striped bass takes the bait. © K. Rebenstorf/VIMS.

Preliminary results from an ongoing long-term survey conducted by researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) suggest an average year class of young-of-year striped bass was produced in Virginia tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay in 2017. The 2017 year class represents the group of fish hatched this spring that will grow to fishable sizes in three to four years.

The program, formally known as the Juvenile Striped Bass Seine Survey, recorded a mean value of 8.98 fish per seine haul in the Virginia portion of Chesapeake Bay, which is similar to the historic average of 7.77 fish per seine haul. The 2017 value—what scientists call a recruitment index—was also similar to indices observed in the past four years. Although variation in striped bass recruitment among years can be considerable, the average indices observed in recent years may indicate greater consistency in the production of juvenile fish than what was observed in the past.

Striped bass play an important role as a top predator in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and are a valuable resource for commercial and recreational anglers. Professor Mary Fabrizio, who directs the Juvenile Striped Bass Seine Survey at VIMS, notes that the economic and ecological value of striped bass lends significant interest to the year-to-year status of their population.

“By estimating the relative number of young-of-year striped bass, our survey provides an important measure of annual and long-term trends in the bay’s striped bass population,” she said.

The VIMS Juvenile Striped Bass Seine Survey currently samples 18 index stations in the Rappahannock, York and James River watersheds. Biologists sample each site five times from mid-June to late August, deploying a 100-foot long seine net from the shore. Each fish captured in the net is counted, measured and returned to the water. These young striped bass generally measure between 40 and 100 millimeters (1.5-4 inches). Survey scientists in Virginia measured 1,998 juvenile striped bass at these stations in 2017. VIMS has conducted the survey annually since 1967 for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC).

The striped bass population in Chesapeake Bay has rebounded from historic lows in the late 1970s and early 1980s, after fishing bans were enacted in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia in the mid- to late-1980s. Since then, the population has increased to the point that striped bass in the bay and elsewhere are now considered recovered. Monitoring of juvenile striped bass recruitment will continue next year to provide managers with crucial information to sustainably manage this important species.