About half of striped bass sold in markets is farmed and referred to as hybrid striped bass. More than two-thirds of the striped bass harvest is landed by fishermen from Maryland and Virginia. The highest quality stripers are caught in the late fall and winter. After stripers spawn in the spring and summer, their flesh loses fat - and flavor. Smaller stripers under 10 pounds tend to have more tender flesh. As a rule, pound net and trap-caught fish will be the best quality. When cooked, the flesh is white and moist and the cooked crispy skin is also known for its popular taste. When buying fresh striped bass look for bright red gills and a sweet smell.
Key sustainability sourcing notes for striped bass based on landings from 2014-2016 and the most recent 2016 Seafood Watch assessment:
~20% of U.S. landings meet the "Best Choice (green)" rating (hook and line-caught from the U.S. Atlantic) with ~55% from Massachusetts, ~20% from Maryland, and ~15% from New York
~65% of U.S. landings meet the "Good Alternative (yellow)" rating (gillnet and pound net-caught from the U.S. Atlantic) with ~45% from Maryland, 40% from Virginia, and ~10% from New York
~15% of U.S. landings are unrated with ~50% from Massachusetts, ~15% from Maryland, and ~10% from both Delaware and Rhode Island
Average percentage of overall state landings are Maryland ~35%, Virginia ~30%, Massachusetts ~15%, New York ~10%, and Rhode Island, Delaware, and North Carolina combined ~10%
U.S. striped bass landings have decreased ~25% from 2014 to 2016
Striped bass is the largest member of the sea bass family. They have stout bodies with seven to eight continuous horizontal stripes that run along each side (from their gills to their tail), with those towards the top of their body being more distinctive. Their undersides are an iridescent white or silver and on top they can sport a variety of colors ranging from light green and olive to steel blue, black or brown. The striped bass has two well-developed dorsal fins and a wide, forked tail. Their mouths are large and their lower jaws protrude slightly. A striped bass can grow up to five feet long and can weigh almost 80 pounds, though maximum growth depends on where it lives. Striped bass are also fairly long-lived and can have a lifespan of up to 30 years.
Striped bass can live in both freshwater and saltwater. They are anadromous species, meaning they will migrate from saltwater to freshwater to spawn, some even traveling up to 100 miles inland to do so. Spawning usually begins in the spring, when temperatures reach around 60o Fahrenheit. Females produce a large amount of eggs which they then release into the water where the male fertilizes them. Male striped bass reach sexual maturity between the ages of two and four years old. Females mature a bit slow and are able to start reproducing around four to eight years of age.
The larvae that hatch from the fertilized eggs feed on zooplankton and as they grow into juveniles, striped bass will start to eat insect larvae, smaller crustaceans, mayflies, and other larval fish. As adults, striped bass are piscivorous (fish-eating) and will eat almost any kind of finfish. Striped bass are strong swimmers which allows them to swim in harsh surf environments. Striped bass mostly travel in large schools, with the exception of some very large individuals, who will travel alone. Some fish species such as bluefish, weakfish, cod, and silver hake prey on smaller individuals. While large adults have very few predators, seals and sharks are known to prey on larger striped bass.
Striped bass are native to the Atlantic coast of North America and range from the St. Lawrence River in Canada to Florida and into the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Louisiana. They have been subsequently introduced to numerous inland lakes and reservoirs as well as to the Pacific coast of North America where they now range from Mexico to British Columbia. Striped bass are anadromous – with adults migrating inshore annually to spawn in fresh or brackish water in the spring. Larvae develop in nursery areas near river deltas and in the inland portions of sounds and estuaries. Juveniles typically spend between two and four years in these coastal areas before migrating to the open ocean where they will live out the majority of their lives – although this is not always the case and some adults may end up remaining in or near the rivers and coastal estuaries or their birth. Adults occupy a range of different habitats and can be found over rocks, boulders, aquatic vegetation, and mussel beds as well as along sandy beaches, rock shores, in the surf, and in the open ocean.
Three large systems account for the majority of the Atlantic fishery: the Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, and the Hudson River. Striped bass from these systems – along with individuals from other, smaller systems ranging from Maine to North Carolina that contribute to a lesser extent to the total Atlantic population – are managed as one stock called the coastal migratory stock. The coastal migratory stock undergoes seasonal coastal migrations, undertaking a northern summer migration after spawning and a southward winter migration. The Albemarle Sound and Roanoke River stock of striped bass are managed separately from the costal migratory stock and fish south of the Pamlico Sound in North Carolina are not considered to be part of this stock. Striped bass south of the Albemarle Sound are considered to be non-migratory.
Science & Management
NOAA Fisheries supports various types of striped bass research including annual stock assessments, population dynamic studies, investigations into the causes of stock fluctuation, effects of environmental factors on recruitment, spawning potential, mortality and abundance, and striped bass interactions with other fish species. This work helps to inform striped bass management decisions made by state management agencies and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.
Scientific studies have also been conducted by researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science to address concerns about striped bass health. Striped bass found in the Chesapeake Bay have had lesions which are indicative of the disease known as mycobacteriosis. This bacterial infection produces both external and internal symptoms, including abnormal growth on organs. Researchers continue to explore how some individuals become infect while others do not, the conditions that could influence the spread of the disease, and how it could potentially impact the stock status in the bay.
As striped bass can be important predators in coastal and marine ecosystems, scientists have started to develop a multispecies model which looks at the predator-prey and competitor interactions for striped bass. This model includes species such as Atlantic menhaden, bluefish, and weakfish in order to determine species abundance trends and to better understand the impacts of each fishery on the ecosystem.
Commercial fisheries for striped bass only occur in US state waters (zero to three miles) as federal waters (three to 200 miles) are currently closed to commercial striped bass fishing. Striped bass are managed by the states through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) – a body made up of representatives from all US Atlantic states as well as Washington D.C. and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission – under Amendment 6 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Striped Bass. The plan helps maintain coast-wide consistency of management measures and sets harvest control rules while at the same time allowing states some flexibility to implement their own alternative management strategies when applicable. Among management measures outlined in the plan are:
State-by-state catch quotas;
Minimum size limits to protect juveniles;
Seasonal and area closures to protect spawning fish; and,
Bycatch monitoring and research programs.
Additionally, the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act and Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act help direct state and federal management efforts of striped bass. Both of these Acts include provisions to impose a moratorium on striped bass fishing on states that fail to comply with the ASMFC’s Interstate Fishery Management Plan. The Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act also requires the Secretary of Commerce and the Secretary of the Interior to provide biennial reports to Congress and the ASMFC on the status of Atlantic striped bass stocks.
According to a 2016 stock assessment, striped bass are not overfished nor subject to overfishing. Five Atlantic states – Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania – are closed to the commercial harvest and sale of striped bass.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, striped bass was overfished in the Chesapeake Bay. Pollution there also contributed to a decimated population. However, effective management measures have helped striped bass to return to record abundance. Today, the abundance is considered to be high. Striped bass, found along the U.S. Atlantic coast, are extremely fecund with a long reproductive lifespan so the species tends to be particularly resilient to fishing pressure.
Habitat impacts (Wild)
Striped bass are mainly caught using gillnets, as well as trawls, hook and line, haul seines and pound nets. The gear used to catch striped bass has a minimal impact on ocean habitats.
The overall level of bycatch in the striped bass fishery is currently unknown. Gillnets are size-selective, which means there are fewer discards with this gear compared to others. The Blue Ocean Institute reported that marine mammals and sea birds are susceptible to getting caught in gillnets and called the bycatch levels in this fishery a moderate concern.
The striped bass fishery has substantial, strict management measures that include minimum size limits, quotas, scientific monitoring, gear restrictions, and seasonal fishery closures. A bycatch-monitoring program was set up within the past several years to study discards and help fishermen reduce their discards.