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An “Off” Year For Juvenile Striped Bass In Virginia Waters For 2023

Preliminary results from an ongoing long-term survey conducted by researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science suggest a poor year class of young-of-year striped bass was produced in Virginia tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay in 2023. The 2023 year class represents the group of fish hatched this spring that will grow to fishable sizes in three to four years.

The VIMS Juvenile Striped Bass Seine Survey recorded a mean value of 4.26 fish per seine haul in the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay; this value is called a recruitment index by scientists. The 2023 value is significantly lower than the historic average of 7.77 fish per seine haul and is a notable decrease in annual recruitment compared with recent years in which catches of striped bass were rated average or above average.

Scientist Jack Buchanan measures juvenile striped bass on the Pamunkey River. © Samantha Dowiarz/VIMS
Scientist Jack Buchanan measures juvenile striped bass on the Pamunkey River. © Samantha Dowiarz/VIMS

Poor recruitment during 2023 is consistent with patterns observed by the long-term monitoring program. Since the lifting of the striped bass fishing moratorium in 1990, single years of low recruitment have occurred approximately every ten years in Virginia waters, the last occurring in 2012 (Figure 1). However, striped bass recruitment can vary considerably from year to year. Poor recruitment in 2012 was followed by 10 years of average to above-average recruitment. In this way, striped bass populations, and the fisheries they support, are stabilized by strong year classes which mitigate the effect of less productive years.

Striped bass spawning biomass, the adult stock which returns to spawn each spring, is traditionally dominated by a few strong year classes. For instance, striped bass recovery in the early 1990s was partially attributed to a few strong year-classes produced in the late 1980s. Therefore, a single year of poor recruitment, such as observed this year, can be weathered by the previous year’s high production. If three continuous years of poor recruitment are documented, management actions will be triggered to identify and address issues of striped bass spawning success.

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