The 2019 Striped Bass Fishing Season Closures: Explained
Jun 6, 2019 | 8 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 8 minutes

According to a recent press release from The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the Atlantic Striped Bass population has experienced massive overfishing in the past several years. The announcement has led to some Atlantic states declaring a closure on this year’s trophy Striper recreational fishing season. Today, you’re going to learn what the 2019 Striped Bass fishing season closures mean for the species, as well as the local recreational fishing industries.

an smiling angler holding a striped bass on a boat

We’ll cover a few basics about Stripers to start things off. We’ll then cover the ASMFC report, and show you what the Striper population looked like in the past and what it looks like today. Lastly, we’ll take a look at how some of the Atlantic Coast states are dealing with Striper Bass’ dwindling numbers.

A Word About Stripers

Striped Bass are one of the most popular game fish on the East Coast. Their spectacular game qualities are only matched by their exquisite taste. Surprisingly, though, they are not massively exploited by the commercial fishing industry. 

In fact, this fish is one of the rare good-tasting species predominantly fished by recreational anglers. A whopping 90% of the total catch goes to the recreational fishery. This is actually one of the key reasons why US Atlantic states have closed their recreational Striper fishing seasons. But more on that in a minute.

In the US, Striped Bass inhabit waters ranging from Maine all the way down to North Carolina. Such a vast fishery can’t reasonably be managed by a single state. This is where the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) comes in. The Commission is the chief management authority for Striped Bass stocks, managing coastal and estuarine areas from Maine through Virginia, and the coastal areas of North Carolina.

Stripers are anadromous fish, which means that they spend most of their lives in ocean waters, but return to their natal rivers to spawn. Why is this important? First, because trophy-sized Stripers are often the spawning females. Secondly, the Striper spawn happens in spring, precisely when most Atlantic states’ fishing seasons for this species occur. 

The major spawning grounds are the rivers that feed into Chesapeake Bay, Massachusetts Bay, and the Delaware and Hudson Rivers.

On the East Coast, Stripers often go by the name of Rockfish.

An angler with a Striped Bass in his hands

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s take a look at the Striped Bass population. We’ll cover a bit of history for context first, and then see what the current state of the Striper stock looks like. 

The Numbers

The recent ASMFC report unraveled an unsettling truth about the state of the Atlantic Striped Bass population. The Striper stock was declining, and had fallen dangerously below its sustainability threshold. The findings came as a surprise for many fishing enthusiasts, because for the last 20 years, Stripers were the picture of successful stock management.

There are three main metrics scientists follow when assessing Striped Bass populations. These are:

  • Female spawning stock biomass (SSB) 
  • Recruitment (age-one fish entering the population) 
  • Number of harvested Stripers. 

The Female Spawners

Back in the early 1980s, Striper overfishing led to a near collapse of the stock. Thanks to a five year moratorium and stricter subsequent regulation, the population soon made a complete recovery. By the mid-90s, the female spawning stock biomass (SSB) had risen from 44 million to 240 million pounds. A decade of stability followed, and things were looking good for the Striped Bass fishery.

The period of stability allowed scientists to establish a clear threshold for Striped Bass female spawning stock biomass. This threshold is essentially the minimal required amount of spawning female Stripers need for the species to survive. Its current value is 202 million pounds.

atlantic striped bass female spawning stock biomass and recruitment. this is a report by the ASMFC which contributed to Striped Bass fishing season closures
Source: ASMFC

One of the most unsettling facts the new report pointed to was that the SSB had fallen to 151 million pounds, which is well below the threshold

Recruitment

Striped Bass recruitment has been a varying factor over the years. This is because recruitment numbers are heavily dependent on water temperatures. Striped Bass had a period of strong recruitment from 1994 to 2004. A period of lower recruitment followed from 2005 to 2011 (not as low as the early 1980s, when the stock had nearly collapsed). 

This period of low recruitment caused a decline in SSB, which still hasn’t ended. There were years of good and bad recruitment after that, but on average, the last decade has been far below recruitment levels from the ’90s.

The Harvest

Since the recreational fishery is responsible for 90% of the total Striped Bass harvest, we’ll focus primarily on its impact on the stock. 

Back in 1984, recreational angers harvested 2.4 million pounds of Striper (264,000 fish) per year. Thanks to the Striper SSB rebound of the mid-90s however, anglers were allowed to harvest more fish than ever before. Fast-forward to 2010, and the harvest number jumped to 54.9 million pounds (4.7 million fish). 

This led to stricter bag and size limit regulations, which, in turn, dropped the total annual recreational harvest to 40.5 million pounds (3.2 million fish) for the 2015–2017 period. Considering  that the number of released Striped Bass jumped from 73% in 2003 to 91% in 2017, you’d think that the species was doing great. But you’d be wrong. 

Despite the fact that anglers released over 90% of the Stripers they caught, a lot of them still ended up dying. In fact, recent studies have shown that as many as 9% of the fish released don’t survive the stress they endure.

atlantic striped bass commercial and recreational landings and releases. this is a report by the ASMFC which contributed to Striped Bass fishing season closures
Source: ASMFC

Let’s translate that into numbers. 

In 2017, recreational anglers caught a total of 41.2 million Striped Bass. They kept 2.9 million and released 38.2 million. Out of those 38 million fish, 3.4 million ended up dying. The fact that more fish ended up dying from catch and release than from regular harvest is a clear indicator that a better catch-and-release policy is necessary. 

To minimize these post-release fatalities, officials are now encouraging non-offset circle hooks and limited handling of released fish.

a striped bass hooked on a lure

To sum things up, there were two key takeaways from ASMFC’s report. One, Striped Bass spawning females are well below the necessary threshold. And two, given the current SSB numbers, the recreational fishery has significantly contributed to the dwindling Striper population.

The Regulations

As we’ve mentioned, the ASMFC results have led to Striped Bass fishing season closures in a few Atlantic states. Not all states decided to close their Striper fisheries, though. Let’s take a look at the current Striped Bass fishing regulations.

Around 70–90% of the Stripers’ spawning grounds are in Chesapeake Bay. 

Out of all the Striper fishing states, Maryland is responsible for 52% of the total catch for 2017. Trailing the Old Line State are Massachusetts (16%), New York (10%), New Jersey (8%), and Virginia (5%).

Looking at these numbers, you’d think that Maryland would be leading the effort to minimize recreational Striped Bass fishing. But you’d be wrong. Completely wrong. The state spearheading the conservation effort is actually Virginia, the state with the lowest piece of the Striper pie. 

Virginia

On April 23, The Virginia Marine Resources Commission decided to cancel its trophy Striped Bass fishing season for 2019. The closure will affect fishing for Stripers over 36 inches in Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac River, and Virginia coastal waters. 

The decision didn’t come as much of a surprise to local anglers, though. Local fishermen harvested only 52,000 Stripers in 2018 compared to 368,000 in 2010. This, coupled with the report from ASMFC, was all the incentive officials needed to close the season down.

The decision will impact the trophy season only. Anglers will still be able to keep two Striped Bass between 20 and 28 inches per person. The Spring season will last from May 16 to June 15.

Maryland

On the flip side, Maryland has decided to keep their 2019 Striper season open. The decision is a controversial one at best. 

Striper is Maryland’s state fish, and with good reason. With 70–90% of the species spawning in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland has 8,000 people employed in the recreational fishing industry. Add to that millions of dollars coming in during each Striped Bass season, and you can see why the officials were reluctant to close the fishery for this year.

an angler holding a striped bass on a boat

Time will tell what the long term implications of such a decision will be. It’s possible that Maryland will close its 2020 Striper season depending on how this year’s season goes. Still, there are many who consider this decision narrow-minded.

In Chesapeake Bay, Striped Bass is a catch-and-release-only fishery from January 1 to April 19. April 20 marks the start of Spring Trophy Season, when anglers are allowed to keep one fish per person per day with a minimum size requirement of 35 inches.

For the May 16–May 31 period, anglers will be able to keep two fish between 19 and 28 inches per person per day. Alternatively, they can keep one fish between 19 and 28 inches and one fish over 28 inches.

For detailed Striped Bass fishing regulations in Maryland, click here.

Other States

This is what some of the other Atlantic states’ Striped Bass fishing regulations look like for 2019:

  • In Massachusetts, the season is open year round, with a one fish per person limit and a minimum size requirement of 29 inches. 
  • The Delaware Striper season is open year round, except during spawning season from April 1 to May 31 in the Nanticoke River and its tributaries. 
  • In Maine, the season is open, except from May 1 through June 30 on the Kennebec watershed. The bag limit is one fish per person, and the minimum size 28 inches.
  • The North Carolina Division of Marine fisheries decided to close the Striper fishing season in the Central Southern Management Area. In the Atlantic, the season is still open year round. The bag limit is one fish per person, and the minimum size 28 inches. The Roanoke River Management Area, and the Albemarle Sound Management Area have their own seasonal regulations.

Looking Ahead

This year’s ASMFC report on Striped Bass was a benchmark stock assessment and the result of five years of extensive research. The assessment showed us that the Striper population is decreasing at a very dangerous pace.

Now, you might be thinking things were far worse in the ’80s and Stripers still survived. Only, things are moving a lot quicker these days. A lot can change in a year or two. With people catching 10 times as many Stripers as in the ’80s, regulators must realize that they are walking a very thin line.

As much as they pain the local fishing industries, the Striped Bass fishing season closures are a step in the right direction. They can allow us to enjoy the resource for many years to come.

We are lucky that the Striper population is a resilient one. It will mean nothing, however, if we don’t make an effort to reduce their exploitation.

The next Striper benchmark stock assessment probably won’t happen before 2024. Let’s hope that it will bring much better news than this one.

a smiling angler holding a striped bass on a boat

And now, we turn it over to you. What do you think about the recent Striped Bass fishing season closures? What do you think the best course of action would be? Let us know in the comments below.

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Comments (13)
  • lubitski

    Jul 11, 2019

    Not a better fish to catch. Great fishing this summer in NJ.

    c lubitski

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      Sean

      Jul 11, 2019

      Hi there,

      We sure won’t argue with that, Stripers rock! Glad to hear that the bite is on in New Jersey, we hope you had a great time.

      Tight lines!

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  • Warren

    Jul 21, 2019

    It is obvious to me that striper fishing is in TROUBLE. I fish 3 to 4 days a week. There needs to be an education of the fisherman on the reasons for the decline of fishing. In the northeast we have seen it with cod and haddock. Why aren’t the laws for striper fishing the same for every state. I talk with a lot of people out there that striper fish. When I tell them that it is in decline they mention the commercial fisherman which according to this article s not true. While I am a catch and release fisherman I have seen my numbers decline.

    Warren

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      Sean

      Jul 22, 2019

      Hello Warren,

      Thanks for sharing.

      Absolutely, a cross-state agreement seems like the only thing that can save the species long term. The trouble is, sadly, that not all states have the same willingness to tackle the Stripers’ dwindling numbers. The issue is, of course, a complex one, in part because so many jobs are relying on the recreational Striper fishery.

      And while the commercial fishing industry is usually the one who lands more fish, this is not the case with Stripers. One only needs to take a look at the official ASMFC report to see it.

      Time will tell what this year’s season closures have done for the Striper stock. Hopefully, ASMFC’s next report will bring good news. If not, a cross-state resolution will be needed more than ever.

      Thanks again for sharing.

      Have a good one!

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  • Victor Swanson

    Sep 28, 2019

    As September 2019 what are the Striped Bass regulations for Virginia, Maryland and the Potomac River. I heard many rumors but but not seen anything in writing. It seems they do a lot of talking and do not say anything.

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      Sean

      Sep 30, 2019

      Hi Victor,

      Thanks for reading.

      At this moment, the Striped Bass regulations for Virginia, Maryland and the Potomac River remain unchanged.

      The coastal areas of Virginia require a limit of 1 fish per person, with a minimum size of 28″. In the Cheasapeake Bay area, the fall season is open from October 4 – December 31, 2019. There’s a limit of 1 fish per person, with a required minimum size of 20″, and a maximum size of 28″.

      The fall season in Maryland is open in the entire Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. There’s a limit of two fish per person per day between 19-28″ OR 1 fish between 19-28″ and 1 fish over 28″.

      The Potomac River Fisheries Commision and the ASMFC have published a Draft Addendum which proposes a series of management steps for 2020. The Commision encourages angers to provide their comments on the Draft Addendum. You can do this until October 7, at [email protected].

      The Potomac River Fisheries Commision and the ASMFC are expected to release another public statement shortly after that.

      I hope you’ll find this helpful.

      Have a great day!

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      Victor Swanson

      Sep 30, 2019

      Thanks for the reacesrch. However The latest report as far as Virginia Chesapeake bay fall season. One fish per person. 20-36 inches. Don’t know what to believe. Maryland and Potomac remain the same as last year. Again thanks.

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      Sean

      Oct 1, 2019

      Thanks for the reply, Victor,

      You’re absolutely right.

      On August 27, the VMRC lowered its fall possession limit from two to one fish per person.

      Thank you for pointing this out!

      Let’s hope that the change will contribute to a rebound in Striper populations.

      Tight lines!

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  • Victor Swanson

    Oct 2, 2019

    Ok for this year. Next year could be a lot different in all locations. The good news, lots of blues and fair amount of mackerel.

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      Sean

      Oct 2, 2019

      That’s right.

      Good numbers of Blues and Mackerel will mean that anglers will have alternative options. Even with the tighter Striper regulations, recreational fishermen will still be able to have a good day on the water.

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      Victor Swanson

      Oct 2, 2019

      Oh no doubt. This has been the best season in a long time. You still have options. One fish is ok. You can always try further north. I would like to see the fishing tournaments lighten up on the Striped Bass.for a while.

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      Sean

      Oct 2, 2019

      Agreed.

      The northern stocks aren’t nearly as endangered as the Chesapeake Bay one. Not to mention all the other species. That’s a very intruiging thought. It will be interesting to see if any tournament organizers will step up and postpone their competitions for a better day.

      I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, Victor.

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  • Victor Swanson

    Oct 2, 2019

    That’s all is, just thoughts.

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