“Number 50! Good job, Danu!” my dad exclaimed. He pulled out his phone to take a picture of the flopping fish. Within three hours of fishing in Casco Bay on that 2017 summer day, my father and I caught 50 striped bass. While this was the last time we would achieve this feat, previous trips brought similar success. Twenty, 30, or even 40 stripers were common. Although these fish were small, rarely exceeding 28 inches, these trips excited us for the future, with thoughts of catching 20-to-30-pound fish in the next few years.

When the 2023 season came, the future I had previously dreamt of came to fruition. The beginning of the season brought trips where multiple fish, 30 inches and over, would hit the deck of the boat. However, this success was short-lived. Once the dog days of summer rolled around and the water temperature rose, the abundant fish disappeared. The coves and flats of local bays and estuaries became ghost towns. This lack of fish varied a lot from a typical year during which we would catch striped bass all season long, albeit they would be small.

Logs from the 2023 season show that my father and I caught only 100 striped bass. This yield differed significantly from past seasons, where totals would reach up to 300, 400 and more than 500 fish in some years. The most significant discovery was the decrease in the number of small fish caught. Only one of the 100 fish caught over the five-month-long season was under 20 inches long. Furthermore, only 44 of the 100 fish were between 20 and 28 inches long. This size range typically makes up the brunt of our hauls, accounting for up to 90% of the fish caught in previous seasons.

Intrigued to learn more, I set up a survey asking Northeastern anglers, the majority in Maine, about their 2023 season: how many fish they caught and their size breakdown.

Of the more than 300 anglers who responded, nearly two-thirds (61%) reported a decrease in the number of striped bass under 20 inches in length; 38% reported a reduction in 20- to 28-inch fish. When considering the Young of the Year report for striped bass, these numbers make sense. The YOY is a marine survey conducted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources measuring the spawning success of striped bass by counting the number of fish under one year of age in the Chesapeake Bay, the primary spawning location for striped bass. The results are measured in the average number of recently hatched striped bass caught in each sample. In 2023, the YOY index was 1.02, the second-lowest since the Maryland DNR implemented the program in 1957. For reference, the long-term average is 11.1, and the highest ever recorded came in 1996 at a whopping 59.39.

If you’ve been around striped bass fishing long enough, chances are you have heard anglers use the term “the 2015 class” when referring to striped bass populations. In 2015, the YOY index for striped bass was 24.20, the second-highest since 2003. It has been eight years since that class of fish was born, meaning that those striped bass are reaching sizes that recreational and commercial anglers can keep. Fish growth is to be expected and would not be such a problem were it not for the abysmal spawning results that came in the years following.


We know what the problem is: Fish are not reproducing. The solution is more challenging to find.

In 2023, with hopes of protecting the 2015 class, rules were changed to one fish per day, with a length between 28 and 3 inches, as opposed to the previous rule of one fish between 28 and 35 inches a day. Rules for recreational anglers are constantly evolving to give spawning-size fish a chance to reproduce, but reproduction rates are still low. Blame then gets put on the commercial anglers, who can keep 15 fish over 35 inches a day, from June 19th to Sept. 30th, three days a week. With a quota of just over 700,000 pounds, it is hard not to point a finger at these fishermen when trying to explain why stripers are not doing so well.

Spawning issues do not necessarily just come from low populations of breeding fish – a lot of factors must be suitable for stripers to spawn successfully. First, spawning occurs in freshwater rivers where water temperatures of 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit are needed. Once female fish lay their eggs, they must stay suspended in the water for up to 80 hours to hatch. If water flow is not strong enough, eggs will sink and be smothered by silt. If the water flow is too strong, eggs will end up too far downriver to survive. Over the past few years, climate change has led to too much rain and snowmelt and too little rain and snowmelt, leading to poor conditions for striper reproduction.

We cannot influence the weather or spawning conditions. The only thing that we can immediately impact is our influence on striped bass.

I do not think stopping striped bass harvesting is necessary, at least not yet. Stricter limits on commercial fishing would be a step in the right direction. Being able to keep 45 fish over 35 inches in three days is ridiculous – a recreational angler would need about a month and a half to do the same amount of damage.

Reducing the commercial quota would benefit striped bass, keeping more potential reproducers in the water. Implementing a slot for commercial anglers would do similar good. Above all, however, I believe that more funding for research is needed for striped bass. Spawning is a highly complex process, and a better understanding of how the process happens would benefit the fishery.

Recreational anglers also play a massive role in the success of the fishery. A 1996 Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries study found that 9% of stripers die post-release. This number is too high. Banning treble hooks on artificial lures and mandating the use of single hooks instead is a realistic step that we can make.

Recently, I have taken it upon myself to completely change from treble hooks to single hooks on all artificial lures. I have not been landing as many fish with single hooks, but the number of healthy released fish was up, a trade I am happy to make. Education on proper catch-and-release methods is also vital. When getting a Highly Migratory Species permit, you must watch a video showing features that aid shark identification and proper release methods. Post-video, one must take a short seven-question quiz to get their permit. A tutorial is something that states can implement for the striped bass fishery. A brief, two- to three-minute video that educates anglers on proper catch-and-release methods can go a long way.

No “one size fits all” solution for saving striped bass exists. We need an all-hands-on-deck approach, meaning everyone must sacrifice a little for the benefit of this beautiful resource that so many call their own. I wish each angler luck with their 2024 season, but do not be surprised if you experience a significant decrease in catches, especially of small fish.

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