Friday, October 18, 2019

The Young of the Year Numbers for Striped Bass Are In

And boy, do they ever suck:  From Maryland DNR, Striped Bass Index Documents Below-Average Year
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources announced the results of the young-of-year striped bass survey, which tracks reproduction of the species in Chesapeake Bay. The 2019 juvenile striped bass index is 3.4, below the 66-year average of 11.6.
The young-of-year striped bass survey measures the annual spawning success of the state fish, commonly known as rockfish. The index represents the average number of recently hatched striped bass captured in samples taken during the survey.

During this year’s survey, biologists collected more than 51,000 fish of 54 different species, including 445 young-of-year striped bass. While the abundance of some important forage species like silversides, spot, and menhaden increased in Maryland waters, the survey showed that white perch and yellow perch experienced below-average reproduction.

Weather, river flows, and availability of food for newly hatched fish are all important factors in the spawning success of fish such as striped bass. Although the specific cause of this year’s poor spawning has not yet been determined, large variations in annual reproductive success are normal for the Bay’s striped bass population. Typically, several years of average reproduction are interspersed with high and low years. While three of the past five years have produced strong numbers of young-of-year striped bass, the department is recommending continued monitoring and conservation measures.

“The Chesapeake Bay spawning stock is still capable of high reproductive success under the right conditions,” Assistant Secretary for Aquatic Resources Bill Anderson said. “We will continue to work with our partners along the Atlantic coast and implement measures to responsibly manage the Chesapeake Bay striped bass population.”

Beginning in 2018, the department launched initiatives aimed at reducing striped bass mortality during the fishing season. Those measures included new regulations on size limits and mandatory circle hooks, plus an education campaign on safe catch-and-release practices that now includes an advisory system on optimal conditions for fishing.
And blah, blah blah. A few weeks ago I recall telling Pete that only a few good years of recruitment could bring the Stripped Bass population back to a healthy state. Now we have the opposite, putting off any potential hope of recovery off another year. Pete, who spends more time on the water searching for stripers, wrote this on Facebook to his 300 or so followers.
Welp, here's my take on the 3.4 Striped Bass (young of the year index) and a couple other things....... It's below the historical Avg of 11.4. Many things influence the number. A wet spring typically helps with the YOY index, last spring was wet and the index was still way below avg.

I'm not trying to pose as a fisheries expert. Hell......I'm not nearly smart enough for that. Not going to debate anybody.....just giving my thoughts based on all my days on the water since 1995 and especially since full time guiding beginning in 2004, part time since 2000.

So......what's the problem? No one can really know for sure but I'll give you my take on what I believe based on what I've witnessed and what I think based on my experiences on the water. Since 2004 I've been on the water well over 200 days a year guiding fisherman from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel all the way to the Susquehanna Flats. '

What I've witnessed is a huge decrease in migratory spawning sized fish over 40" up and down the bay. In the late 90's thru the mid 2000's huge Stripers were caught in large numbers by me and folks on my boat at the Susequehanna flats in April, Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Jan-mid April and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and tunnel in Dec-Jan and even Feb depending on the water temp. .

During the early 2000's in December huge migratory fish were prevalent from Ocean City to Oregon Inlet and everywhere in between. The huge spawning size biomass was incredible. As all user groups caught and the law allowed these huge fish to be harvested the massive numbers started to decrease. As the biomass of fish decrease so does it's range. By 2010 numbers were really coming down all over and the Susquehanna Flats and Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel fisheries were collapsing. I quit going to the CBBT in 2013 and quit the Susquehanna Flats at about the same time. I like to fish where fishing is reliable and consistent. These areas became unreliable and inconsistent. Great catches still very possible but large migratory fish in my mind in a very bad place. Fast forward to recent years and now.........

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel is basically Striperless........of course some are still around and the rare 50 plus pounders get killed by slinging Eels in December.....nothing like the past. The Susquehanna Flats all but has stunk for years other than a nice bite in the river where it's legal to catch. The flats itself has very few fish but at times can stilll be good but overall horrible. CBBT and Flats being consistently bad sure shows a decrease in range with the apparent decrease in biomass.

So......the big fish as reported by science are overfished and overfishing is occurring.........huge debate on who's killing them all. Recs, comms.........everybody is guilty.

Our lack of YOY index in my opinion is probably a result of less female migratory spawners in the system. Some say they are "offshore" some say they are "up the rivers", some say they just aren't getting caught.....etc.....lot's of excuses as to where are the huge opinion is they are mostly dead. Hence the lack of spawning biomass........the fish still in the system had a great opinion. Problem is not as many large female spawners to produce a high YOY index. YOY 3.4......good for what's in the water to spawn.....bad because we should have more spawners in the water to produce.

Our state has realized a decline in "normal sized" Stripers. In my experience in the last several years fishing has been very good! Well, I'm cheating because I'm out everyday and I burn a lot of gas and have much experience seeking out the fish still in our system. As of this second folks are catching fish up and down the bay....some small, some decent some darn nice. I'm optimistic about the range and numbers of fish in our waters but I do know we have a huge problem but I believe with the right moves by the fisheries folks we could really help the future spawners by not killing so many fish in our state before they get a chance to produce.

We need meaningful reductions in mortality. Hoping the state takes these numbers where they need to take them to actually make a difference. My targeting when water is hot........80 and above......let's say at least 30 days no target sometime in late July/August. Since science indicates mortality is HUGE when catching and releasing fish in hot water and certainly worse if salinity is low then let's do what truly makes a difference. Big debate on what's going to happen with the upcoming year.

Will be interesting to see if science rules or user groups rule........I think I know what's going to happen.......I'll be guiding this winter in the land of where science rules and not user groups........FLORIDA! Also, it's the land where no nets kill inshore fish and no matter what you can catch and release. They've figured out that no catch and release fishing has ever decimated a fishery but certainly other types of fishing does. Florida makes a WHOLE LOT OF MONEY FROM FISHING! They turn on and off harvesting of fish based on the conditions of the fisheries and the water.......Florida's version of the DNR does their job......scientists report findings and rules are put out to save the fisheries. Amazing!

Hoping smart decisions are made on behalf of the fish and not the users in MD.
users need to adapt and's the way life is......

my more no less......hoping for the best!
The Wombat has Rule 5 Sunday: Roll Tide! finished on time and within budget.

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