Virginia, Maryland Share Young-of-Year Striped Bass Survey Results; TRCP Pushes Menhaden Netting Ban
Striped bass, commonly referred to as "rockfish" around the Chesapeake Bay have seen suffering population numbers in recent years with states implementing harvest restrictions in attempts to rebuild the stocks. Each year, Maryland and Virginia survey tidal rivers to ascertain how successful the fish were at spawning the year before. Those numbers were released this week. Recruitment of young fish in Virginia tidal waters is similar to the historic average and seems to be improving. Maryland, however, continues to see recruitment well below the long-term average.
Many recreational anglers place some of the blame on the aggressive menhaden reduction fishery conducted out of Reedville by Cooke, Inc., formerly and locally known as Omega Protein. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership launched this year a petition drive to deliver to Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, asking for restrictions to be put on harvesting menhaden within the Chesapeake Bay. According to TRCP, the recreational fishing community is concerned that years of localized depletion from the annual harvest of over 100 million pounds of menhaden in the Bay has deprived gamefish like striped bass, bluefish, and weakfish of a critical food source. Menhaden are said to comprise 30 percent of a striped bass' diet. Also disconcerting is the by-catch attributed to Omega boats, with TRCP alleging a 2022 event resulted in the waste of 12,000 pounds of red drum.
Scroll down for overviews of these surveys and the TRCP initiative, with links to supporting documents and more. Good fishing!
Virginia Numbers Seem to be Holding Their Own
Preliminary results from an ongoing long-term survey conducted by researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science suggest another average year class of young-of-year striped bass was produced in Virginia tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay in 2022. The 2022 year class represents the group of fish hatched this spring that will grow to fishable sizes in three to four years.
The VIMS Juvenile Striped Bass Seine Survey recorded a mean value of 7.95 fish per seine haul in the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay; this value is called a recruitment index by scientists. The 2022 value is similar to the historic average of 7.77 fish per seine haul and represents the 10th consecutive year of average or above-average recruitment in Virginia waters.
Maryland Releases Its Numbers - Well Below Long-Term Average
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources announced results of this year’s juvenile striped bass survey, which tracks the reproductive success of the iconic fish in the Chesapeake Bay. The 2022 young-of-year index is 3.6, which is slightly higher than last year’s result, but remains below the long-term average of 11.3.
The Atlantic coastal striped bass population has decreased in size, but is still capable of strong reproduction with the right environmental conditions. Variable spawning success is a well-known characteristic of the species. Biologists continue to examine factors that might limit spawning success.
Biologists captured more than 40,000 fish of 58 different species during the 3-month survey. One positive result was the increased abundance of spot, a popular species used for food and bait. Spot abundance was the highest observed in over a decade.
Atlantic Coast states enacted responsible conservation measures in recent years to reduce harvest and protect striped bass during the spawning season. Maryland will work with other states in the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to develop additional measures to enhance the striped bass population through the Atlantic striped bass fishery management plan.
For this annual survey, fishery managers examine 22 sites located in four major spawning areas: the Choptank, Nanticoke, and Potomac rivers, and the upper Chesapeake Bay. Biologists visit each site three times per summer, collecting fish with two sweeps of a 100-foot beach seine net. The index represents the average number of recently hatched striped bass captured in each sample.
TRCP Delivers Menhaden Petition to Virginia Governor
More than 10,000 anglers and conservationists from Virginia and up and down the East Coast have signed a petition asking Governor Youngkin to protect the Chesapeake Bay from the negative impacts of industrial menhaden fishing. The petition is being delivered to Youngkin and the governor-appointed members of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to push for meaningful conservation of menhaden, a critical forage fish species.
A coalition of 11 national and 10 Virginia-based groups teamed up earlier this year to demand regulation changes that would move menhaden reduction fishing out of the Chesapeake Bay and stop wasteful fish spills from fouling the state’s beaches.
Beyond signing the far-reaching petition, Virginia residents have also been showing up to VMRC meetings all summer to make public comments about how the menhaden reduction fishery is affecting their lives. According to Virginia code, menhaden regulations can only be changed from October to December, but menhaden are still not on the VMRC agenda for its October 25 meeting.
“Over 10,000 anglers, charter captains, and Bay-area residents have spoken, and they want the menhaden reduction fishery moved out of the Bay,” says Steve Atkinson, president of the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association. “We are now waiting to see just how much the governor cares about these resources.”