Another Striped Bass Spawn Failure

Feature Photo: Striped Bass release from the Cheeky Fishing team.

While Atlantic striped bass advocates continue to fight for the timely rebuilding of an iconic fishery, the grey cloud of dismal spawning news above the community has grown larger. The Hudson River, New York “Young of the Year” (YOY) results were published. Striped bass spawning success in 2023 was a complete failure across the board. In fact, 2023 may be the worst overall spawn in decades across the multiple estuaries supporting the coastwide stock. There are a lot of rapid reactions currently buzzing around the internet, many of which are justifiably alarmed.

We don’t cry wolf for clickbait traffic. This is the best available science; the same data we’ve used to monitor this fishery for decades. We do, however, represent businesses and recreational anglers up and down two coasts. We take that role very seriously. Anyone who is critical of organizations promoting the best available is solely focused on protecting their agenda. The charts below tell the tale of a struggling fishery trending further down a dark path.

There are many ecosystem dynamics at play for this coastwide fishery. That being said, the fishery hasn’t arrived at its current status because of blue catfish. This stock isn’t lacking size-class balance due to climate change. We’ve heard every other theory in the book: the Multi-Decadal Oscillation theory, sunspots, all the stripers moved to Canada, and maybe Bigfoot… Nope, nope, and nope. 

“It must be those terrible catch-and-release anglers! All those released fish dying while we simply catch our limit and go home!” Again, nope. Catch and release mortality has collapsed. In 2022, catch and release mortality fell to only 39% of overall recreational mortality (see below).

Did all of this suddenly happen in 2019?  Eureka! That’s the answer. All of this converged and happened at the same moment in 2019! Well, we had excellent spawns in 2011 and 2015. We had average spawns in 2017 and 2018. There was a fantastic spawn in the Hudson in 2020, too. Maybe, just maybe, it has something to do with overfishing every single year except for two since 1996 (that is consistent overfishing for almost 30 years)…

The current status of the fishery has everything to do with people refusing to accept that we are in trouble. We are in trouble because the ASMFC Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board has kicked the can down the road for over a decade. Some states spend more time figuring out how to give carve-outs for special interests rather than doing anything to ensure a sustainable future for the fishery. We are in trouble because of the people whose business models rely on the relentless harvest of striped bass and the non-stop policy pressure they exert on weak-willed bureaucrats.

Our strategy has been simple. Explain the science, rally the community, and give the aforementioned bureaucrats the political cover needed to do the right thing. The first two efforts worked well. The last one has worked in some areas and failed in others.  

While there was never a chance of it occurring, these results confirm that the Hudson River spawn won’t save the coastwide stock. This is just another “striped bass BS bingo” talking point used to hold off the inevitable. The only thing that will save us is managers accepting the truth and utilizing the best available science. We pushed recreational and commercial harvest too far. We didn’t react to science when we needed to. And so, here we have arrived. Yet, people will say the surveys are taken in the wrong place. Stripers are in Canada (which is a different genetic stock benefiting from a recent 13-year moratorium), and “this is the best fishing we’ve ever seen!”. These people are speaking for themselves today. They are not speaking for future generations. It is up to you to decide where you stand: short term gains or long term sustainability.

If managers continue to make bad decisions, we will run out of options. In 2027, the wheels will come off the bus. If managers do the right thing, maybe just maybe, we will have a chance.

Snow is currently falling along the Eastern Shore around all the critical spawning rivers. It is freezing. We have had consistent rain. Nature is resilient. Give the fish a chance, and our returns will pay forward for years to come. We are running out of time.  

2 Responses

  1. Can you please explain in simple terms how the fishery is collapsing when you literally couldn’t drop a line in Massachusetts last year without catching a striper. I’m out often and am good friends with a lot of charter captains and they all had spectacular seasons.

    1. Eric, thanks for the question. What you see in one area for one window does not constitute stock health. We are happy that you had a great season. A large proportion of the fish you were seeing were the 2011 and 2015 year classes. The truly large fish are the last of the early 2000 year classes. All of these were robust spawning cohorts from the Chesapeake that spend their summers off MA. The issue is that the major spawning area that produces 70-90% of your fish has collapsed and recruitment has failed since 2019. In 2027, the wheels are going to come off for the coast. Thanks again for the question. It is totally reasonable and we appreciate the discourse.

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