SANDY POINT STATE PARK – Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay population of juvenile striped bass approached average this year despite recent biological threats to striper adults, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ annual survey.
“Everybody talks about how bad the bay is . . . the bay is not dead,” said Harry Hornick, head of the DNR’s striped bass study project. “We have a teeming population of striped bass.”
The DNR has found indications that the menhaden population, a major food source for striped bass, may be dipping, and that a disease known as mycobacteriosis afflicts the rockfish. But the adult and juvenile rockfish populations remain stable.
“For all intents and purposes, this is the 50-year average right on the nose this year,” said Eric Durell, survey supervisor, before taking a final sample on Sandy Point State Park’s beach.
“This right here is a healthy year,” he said. At his feet, buckets held the day’s catch: flounder, white perch, shad, bay anchovies and striped bass, among others.
The survey, which used a 100-foot seine to take 132 samples from July through September, found 11.4 juvenile bass per sampling, as compared to the 11.9 average. That number fell by nearly 15 from last year, but Durell said such fluctuation is normal.
Sport fishing organizations and universities throughout the East look to this survey, he said, because 75 percent of striped bass on the Atlantic Coast derive from the bay. Bass tagged by the DNR are found as far north as Canada, said Hornick, and as far south as Florida.
“We’re the mother nursery here in the bay,” said Rich Novotny, executive director of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen’s Association.
The recent bass figures translate to good news for fishermen, he said, but added that a reduction in overall striper size has them concerned.
“(Fishing) means a lot of money to the state. It’s a billion-dollar industry,” he said. “At the top of that list is the striped bass.”
Claims that menhaden depletion has negatively affected striper size and health are questionable, according to Durell.
“There are theories of a depleted forage base. It has yet to be linked with problems in striped bass populations,” he said.
The survey, which tracks more than 100 other species of fish, did find that menhaden numbers were again below average, but recorded American shad numbers at a record high. Less than 1 percent of the collected bass evidenced disease or injury, said Durell, despite concern over mycobacteriosis, which can form lesions on the fish.
The bay yields about 5 million pounds of rockfish to Maryland per year. If biological factors do threaten the bass, said Howard King, director of the DNR fisheries service, “We want to get ahead of it and try to identify any problems that might exist before it might become a crisis.”