From the Field: Tracking striped bass

From the Field: Tracking striped bass

This is a fish factory, but you don’t
even know it’s there. It’s really pretty incredible. This area is the center of the striped bass spawning area for the Choptank River. Striped bass are at the end of all these drainages. Where the Susquehanna River comes into the bay, that’s the biggest spawning area in the world. The Potomac River is the
second-biggest. One of the things that we are really focused on is how land-use impacts fish habitat and fisheries. I think overall the ideal would be a
forest, but agriculture is pretty good. By far, the most serious impacts that
we’ve seen are in the suburban and urban watersheds. There are cumulative stresses
that come from development. We had basically a protracted period in the 70s and into the 80s of poor reproduction that may well have been linked to inorganic
contaminants like heavy metals and possibly acid rain or some other things. And it led to an extended depression of reproductive success not just for striped bass but for the other anadromous fish— several species of herring, American shad, white perch, yellow perch. [Versak] Today we will be conducting the striped bass spawning stock survey in the upper bay. Part of what I love about it is you just
never know what you’re gonna catch. Striped bass typically begin to spawn
around 56 degrees—that’s sort of the trigger. And the larger, older fish tend
to spawn first. Those 50, 60 pound females, or cows, can hold 3 to 5 million eggs each. We try to sample all size ranges of the population up here. The tags are used to estimate fishing mortality and survival rates and we can also get migration patterns and migration rates from the tagging data. [Uphoff] We’re seeing a pattern now
that isn’t any different than what was considered the heyday between 1958 and
1970. Seems like a good place habitat-wise right now. The Choptank River has done really well. The key here is simply that this mix of land uses does allow
for pretty good habitat for spawning, and for larvae of anadromous fish. Some of this too is well-thought out growth, trying to conserve as much of these
watersheds as you can— the natural features or the semi-natural features even. Sound planning can make a world of difference.

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