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The striped bass

Spawning Stripers

when do the stripers spawn

Where and when do striped bass spawn?

Life for the striped bass begins in the estuary: at one time the Chesapeake Bay was the spawning ground for nearly 90 percent of the Atlantic population.

In late winter and spring, mature striped bass move from the ocean into tidal freshwater to spawn. Spawning is triggered by an increase in water temperature and generally occurs in April, May and early June when water temperatures reach 60 to 68 degrees.
Female striped bass may spawn as early as age 4, but a year class may not reach complete sexual maturity until age 8 or older. By contrast, most male stripers reach sexual maturity at age 2 or 3.
Shortly after spawning, mature fish return to the coast. Most spend summer and early fall months in middle New England near-shore waters. In late fall and early winter they migrate south off the North Carolina and Virginia capes. Stripers are river spawners that broadcast millions of eggs in the water currents without affording any protection or parental care. During spawning, seven or eight smaller males surround a single, large, female and bump her to swifter currents at the water surface. At ovulation, ripe eggs are discharged and scattered in the water as males release sperm. Fertilized eggs must be carried by river currents until hatching (about 48 hours) to avoid suffocation. Fry and fingerlings spend most of their time in lower rivers and estuaries. Because striped bass eggs must remain suspended in a current until hatching, impoundments are unsuitable for natural reproduction. Freshwater populations have been maintained by stocking fingerlings, and, despite initial difficulties in hatchery procedures for obtaining females with freely flowing eggs, a modern technique of inducing ovulation with the use of a hormone has been successful.

Incubation, Hatching and Larval Stages - Striped bass eggs hatch from 29 to 80 hours after fertilization, depending on the water temperature. Larvae at this point have an average size of 3.1 mm. The mouth forms in two to four days, and the eyes are unpigmented. The larvae are nourished by a large yolk mass. Eggs produced by female stripers weighing 10 pounds or more contain greater amounts of yolk and oil reserve and have a greater probability of hatching.
The larvae's survival depends primarily upon events during the first three weeks of life. Typically striped bass larvae begin feeding about five days after hatching, depending on water temperature. Eggs and newly hatched larvae require sufficient turbulence to remain suspended in the water column; otherwise, they will settle to the bottom and be smothered. As the larvae grow, they can be found at progressively deeper levels of the water column.
Young stripers tend to move downstream to areas of higher salinity. Some less than 2 years old migrate along the Atlantic Coast, but many do not migrate until age 3, and most remain in the river system in which they were spawned.

Striped bass (also known as Rock Fish) is an anadromous species. The term anadromous means “up running” and is used to refer to fish that spend part of their lives in the ocean but move into fresh water to spawn.

The striped bass stock within the Chesapeake Bay is composed of pre-migratory fish -- primarily ages 5 and younger -- and coastal migratory striped bass aged 2 to 20 or older. Mature resident and migratory striped bass move into tidal freshwater in the late winter and spring to spawn. After spawning, migratory fish return to the Atlantic coast. Most spend the summer and early fall months in middle New England near-shore waters. During the late fall and early winter, coastal striped bass migrate south to winter off the North Carolina and Virginia Capes. Spawning is triggered by an increase in water temperature and generally occurs in April, May and early June in Chesapeake Bay. The fertilized eggs drift downstream with currents and eventually hatch into larvae. The larvae begin feeding on microscopic animals during their downstream journey. After their arrival in the nursery areas, located in tidal reaches of the spawning rivers, they mature into juveniles. They remain in the Chesapeake Bay for two to four years, and then migrate to the Atlantic Ocean. live bait striped bass

South Carolina Striped Bass

A Unique story

The striped bass, sometimes known as the "Rock", "Rockfish" or "Striper" has a long and interesting history in South Carolina. It is the "state game fish" and the "state fish." The scientific name of the striped bass is Morone saxatilis and it is typically catalogued as an anadromous fish. Anadromous means that it spends the greater part of its life in the ocean and travels to freshwater streams to spawn. Over the past century, fish biologists have reported that striped bass populations have steadily declined. This decline is primarily due to pollution, siltation, construction of power dams and overfishing. Striped Bass are found along the Atlantic Coast from the St. Lawrence River in Quebec and ends in the St. John’s River in Florida. North of Cape Hatteras, the Striped Bass is an anadromous fish. It is one of the most popular saltwater sport fish along the eastern seaboard. In the spring, the Striped Bass enters freshwater, traveling up rivers to spawn. When spawned, fertilized eggs must have a volume and flow of water that insures at least 48 hours flotation. If they sink, the eggs die. Once hatched the fry begin their journey down river and enter saltwater as fingerlings, juvenile fish. In South Carolina, the striped bass tend to spend the greater part of its life in freshwater streams. Once it was believed that the Santee-Cooper population of Striped Bass had become landlocked because of the construction of two dams that impounded Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion. More recently, fish biologists have come to believe that the Striped Bass in South Carolina were "functionally" landlocked or "riverene" long before the dams were built. This means that they have become residents of the river naturally. This is supported by the current research. Therefore, the Santee-Cooper Striped Bass population is entirely a freshwater population (Campbell, Striped White & Hybrid Bass in South Carolina). Striped Bass have a tendency to travel in small schools during the first two years of life. They have enormous appetites and feed on shad, menhaden, herring and minnows. Spawning grounds for Striped Bass are typically in streams and rivers with moderate to fast current flowing over a rock or sand bottom. In South Carolina, the spawning period ranges from April 1 to May 15. During this time, the males typically migrate to the spawning grounds first and wait until the larger females arrive. Spawning is governed by water temperature and it starts when the water is around 58-60 degrees F. Spawning of Striped Bass involves several small males surrounding one large female as she lays her eggs freely into the running water. No spawning "bed" or "nest" is created by Striped Bass. The males jockey for position creating much splashing which is known as a "rock fights." The males brush against the female to stimulate spawning. After the eggs are laid, milt from the males then fertilizes the eggs. Studies have shown that greater than 80 percent of the eggs are usually fertilized. The eggs at the time of fertilization are very small and nonadhesive and settle to the bottom. After a short time, the eggs swell to about four times the original size and possess a tiny oil globule. This change makes the egg approximately the same density of the surrounding water. The eggs become somewhat buoyant and are easily carried by the water currents. The hatching time varies from 65 hours at 60 degrees F to 36 hours at 70 degrees F. According to Bulak (1988), if a striped bass spawned at 70 degrees F in a low rainfall year, approximately 36 miles of flowing water is necessary for the eggs to hatch. But if a striper spawned at the same temperature during a high rainfall period, about 72 miles of flowing water from the spawning area is required. A flow velocity in the river of approximately one-foot per second is required to keep the eggs afloat. If the egg sinks to the bottom, its chances of hatching are reduced because the sediments reduce oxygen exchange between the egg and the surrounding water. The flow rates of the water are basically controlled by the upstream flows from dams. Egg mortality is high, especially in water temperatures above 70 F, but many eggs are laid to increase survival. Less than one percent of the eggs will survive the fist two months. Bulak (1988), stated that "In most years, the prime spawning grounds are in the upper Congaree, between the city of Columbia and the Eastman Kodak plant. But in years of low water, such as 1985 and 1986, striped bass do not migrate as far upstream to spawn. This points out once again, the impact river flow can have on spawning migration (p. 44)." Depending in the size of the female, one female can lay from 14,000 (3 pounder)-3,000,000 eggs (10 pounder). A thirty-pound female is capable of producing as many as five million eggs. In a fast moving current, the eggs hatch out at a considerable distance downstream from the spawning place. At the time of hatching, the tiny transparent fish, less than ¼ inch long emerges with a heavy yolk sac attached. It derives nourishment from this sac. The fry at this stage is at the mercy of the water currents. Within four to five days, the yolk sac is absorbed and the fry begins to swim and feed on small crustaceans (Scruggs, 1954). Male Striped Bass usually reach sexual maturity at two years. They are generally less than 12 inches long. About 25% of the females reach maturity at four years of age when they are about 17 inches in length. Nearly all of the females are mature at five years of age when they reach a weight of six pounds or a length of twenty-three inches. Age studies have shown that the Striped Bass grow slowly during the first two years. The rate of growth of females is faster then that of the male. The average length of a striper is 20-36 inches, while the average weight is 3-10 pounds. Striped Bass attain a maximum weight of 60 pounds in freshwater and 125 pounds in saltwater, but fish over 55 pounds are rare (Bayless, 1982). In South Carolina, the majority of the spawning occurs in the Wateree and Congaree Rivers, which are tributary streams of Santee-Cooper. Results of a 1983 study indicated that the Congaree River is a major spawning area while additional studies in 1987, now show that the majority of striped bass egg production comes from the Wateree River. In 1973, the SC Wildlife and Marine Resources Department, now known as the SC Department of Natural Resources, reported that there are five main rivers which support populations of Striped Bass: the Cooper, Santee, Congaree, Wateree, and Saluda above Lake Murray. Excellent reservoir fisheries exist in Lakes Marion, Moultrie, Murray and Wateree. Smaller populations are found in Lakes Hartwell, Thurmond, Secession and Greenwood. Biologist believe that a slow moving current in a short stretch of river or a faster current in a longer river may provide the necessary time for eggs to develop and hatch. They believe that of all the state’s rivers, which empty into reservoirs, only the Congaree and Wateree provide the correct ratio of length and flow necessary for reproduction. It should be noted that most striper populations in reservoirs are maintained solely by stocking. This stocking benefits other game fish such as largemouth bass and crappie. The striper seeks out fish such as gizzard shad for its main food supply, thus eliminating fish that would compete with wanted game fish (Davis, 1973). In the early 1960’s, SCDNR fishery biologists provided the key to propagating Striped Bass artificially by experimenting with various hormones to speed up spawning. The pioneering efforts by Dr. Robert E. Stevens put Striped Bass hatcheries on a reliable production basis. This technique plus the documentation that Striped Bass in the Santee-Cooper River system was "landlocked", opened a new era of Striped Bass culturing and fishing. It enabled the expansion of Striped Bass into land-locked reservoirs (Bayless, 1982). These techniques have allowed the stocking of Striped Bass in many reservoirs in the United States. Since the1970’s, many anglers throughout the United States now enjoy Striped Bass fishing. Freshwater striped bass fisheries are now in almost every state because of what was discovered in the Santee-Cooper System (Bulak, 1988). In More information about striper production at state hatcheries may be found in the Hatchery Section of this guide. In recent years, the low rate of hatching survival of striper eggs in Santee-Cooper, indicate that something is affecting the ability of stripers to successfully reproduce and maintain their populations. In hopes of speeding up the recovery of Santee-Cooper striped bass populations, the daily creel limits in 1989 were reduced from 10 stripers to five in lakes Marion and Moultrie and the rivers nearby. Therefore, the law prohibits keeping more than five striped bass or any striped bass less than 18 inches long in the following waters: Lake Marion, Lake Moultrie, Diversion Canal, Rediversion canal, Tailrace Canal, Santee River, Congaree River, Wateree River, Lower Saluda River, Broad River northward to the lock and dam of the Columbia Canal, Cooper River (no length limit) and Wando (no length limit) (South Carolina Wildlife Roundtable, M-A, 1990). In 1993, it was discovered that heavy fishing was creating the reduction of striper populations in the Santee-Cooper lakes. The striped bass are caught so fast and in such large numbers that few of the fish live long enough to reproduce. DNR studies have shown that 80% of the Lake Marion and Moultrie female stripers are caught before they reach spawning size. This reduction of egg-laying females and other factors has caused the drastic decline in the striper population in the two reservoirs (Bulak, Wethey, and White III, 1995). It was stated by DNR fisheries biologists that we have now have to stock more than two million hatchery-reared fish into the lakes each year to meet the demands of fishermen. This may suggest that the 18 inch minimum size limit needs to be changed, or lower the daily creel limit to ease the fishing pressure (South Carolina Wildlife Roundtable, M-J, 1993). Miller White, District Fisheries Biologist for DNR, is now tagging striped bass in the Santee-Cooper lakes to get a better understanding of the factors influencing striper populations. He feels that the tagging study can produce valuable information about striper management. Fishermen are asked to report the tagged stripers they catch. For this study. DNR will even pay $20 for each tag reported (South Carolina Wildlife Roundtable, J-A, 1997).

The Coosa River in Alabama - has a self sustaining population

The Upper Coosa River Basin is home to one of only a few naturally-reproducing populations of landlocked-striped bass. It is also home to one of the best striped bass fishing locations in Georgia and Alabama d uring the spring spawning runs up the Coosa, Etowah and Oostanaula.
ADWFF began stocking atlantic strain Striped Bass on a limited basis in Lake Martin on the Talapoosa river in 1965. The goal in the stockings was to diversify the fishery and to provide anglers the opportunity to catch a trophy fish. The program expanded in 1969 to five reservoirs and eventually peaked to include twenty four reservoirs - seven of which are still stocked with striped bass annually. Weiss Lake, the uppermost impoundment on the Coosa river in Alabama, is in the northeast corner of the state, approximately 29 miles below the confluennce of the Etowah and Oostanaulah rivers at Rome, Georgia. lake weiss was stocked with striped bassin 1972, 74, 80, 85 and 86. During those years, a total of 131,535 Atlantic - strain stripers were introduced. Concurrent with al;abama stockings, the Georgia department of natural resources (GADNR) stocked approximately 4.7 million Atlantic - strain striped bass in the upper Coosa River drainage basin between 1973 and 1992. Striped Bass began appearing more recently in angler creels and standardized gill-net samples in Weiss Lake during the early 1990's. Speculation at the time was that either natural reproduction was occuring or emigration was taking place from reservoirs upstream in Georgia. A review of the GADNR striped bass stocking records indicated that GADNR stocked Gulf strain striped bass exclusively in the upstream impoundments of Carters and Allatoona in 1993 and 94. Electrofishing samples in March of 1994 netted four one year old striped bass near the Alabama - Georgia border. Mitochondrial DNA analasys (mtDNA) revealed that all four were Atlantic - strain fish. These results prompted ADWFF to conclude that natural reproduction of striped bass was occuring in the upper Coosa River. Since 1997, Dr. Bill Davin (Berry College, Rome Ga.) has documented that striped bass are indeed spawning in the Oostanuala River near rome.


Morone saxatilis

Common Names - striper, rockfish, rock, linesides.

Description - The striper is the largest member of the temperate bass family.. The stripes are often interrupted or broken and are usually absent on young fish of less than six inches. The striper is longer and sleeker and has a larger head than its close and similar looking relative, the white bass, which rarely exceeds three pounds. Striped bass may variously appear to be light green, olive, steel blue, brown or black. They earn their name from the seven or eight continuous stripes that mark their silvery sides, extending from the gills to the tail. Their undersides are usually white or silver, with a brassy iridescence. Mature stripers are known for their size (they've even been known to reach 100 pounds and nearly five feet in length) and fighting ability

Range - The Striper has been one of the most sought-after commercial and recreational finfish in the Bay since colonial times. Its habitat reaches from the St. Lawrence River in Canada to the St. Johns River in Florida, and from the Swannee River in western Florida to Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana, and the open waters of the Atlantic.

Habitat:- Estuaries are critically important to the life cycle of striped bass, which use them as spawning grounds and nurseries. Mature stripers are found in and around a variety of inshore habitats as well, including areas off sandy beaches and along rocky shorelines, in shallow water or deep trenches, and in rivers and the open Bay. Any significant alterations of these habitats has the potential to disrupt the life cycle of the striped bass.
Striped bass larvae feed primarily on copepods (crustaceans) in both larval and mature stages, and cladocerans (water fleas). Juvenile stripers eat insect larvae, larval fish, mysids (shrimp-like crustaceans) and amphipods (tiny scavenging crustaceans that lack a carapace and have laterally flattened bodies). Adults are piscivorous, or fish-eaters. In summer and fall, stripers consume Bay anchovy and Atlantic menhaden; in winter they eat larval and juvenile spot and Atlantic croaker; and in spring they feed on white perch, alewives and blueback herring. All Florida populations of striped bass are river dwellers rather than anadromous (normally living in salt or brackish waters, but entering freshwater streams to spawn). The species has been widely introduced in numerous lakes, rivers and impoundments throughout the world. Stripers prefer relatively clear water with a good supply of open-water baitfish. Their preferred water temperature range is 65 to 70 degrees.

The Fishery:

The reasons for the sharp decline in the striped bass harvest during the 1970s and 1980s are complex. Scientists determined that overfishing caused the striped bass population to become more susceptible to natural stresses and pollution. (The principle gear used in the Chesapeake Bay commercial striped bass fishery included pound nets, haul seines, and drift, anchor and stake gillnets.) In particular, fluctuations in water temperature in spawning grounds cause significant natural stress. But this is not the only stressor.
Low dissolved oxygen (DO) in the deeper water of the upper Chesapeake Bay and in other areas has eliminated much of the summer habitat of adult and juvenile striped bass.
Acidity and contaminants in spawning habitats may have influenced the mortality of striped bass larvae in the Choptank, Nanticoke and Potomac rivers. Research indicates that highly acidic rain reacts with aluminum in the soil, causing it to dissolve in the water, which is lethal to newly hatched stripers.
Salinity, turbidity, light, temperature and pH also affect the survival of striped bass in their habitat.
Larval striped bass are also susceptible to toxic pollutants such as arsenic, copper, cadmium, aluminum and Malathion, a commonly used pesticide.
Other hypotheses for the decline of striped bass in the Bay include starvation of larvae, unfavorable climatic events, changes in water use practices, competition with other species for food and space, and poor water quality due to agricultural runoff and sewage treatment practices.
Despite these threats, the striped bass stocks continue gradually to increase in the Bay. Because the Bay remains the main spawning and nursery area for 70 percent to 90 percent of the Atlantic stock, restoration efforts remain critically important to the future of the striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay

Feeding Habits - Stripers are voracious feeders and consume any kind of small fish and a variety of invertebrates. Preferred foods for adults mainly consist of gizzard and threadfin shad, golden shiners and minnows. Younger fish prefer to feed on amphipods and mayflies. Very small stripers feed on zooplankton. Like other temperate bass, they move in schools, and all members of the school tend to feed at the same time. Heaviest feeding is in early morning and in evening, but they feed sporadically throughout the day, especially when skies are overcast. Feeding slows when water temperatures drop below 50 degrees but does not stop completely.

Subspecies - There are no recognized subspecies.

Age and Growth - Stripers are fast-growing and long-lived and have reached weights of over 80 pounds. Sexual maturity occurs at about two years of age for male stripers and at four years of age for females. They can reach a size of 10 to 12 inches the first year.

Eating Quality - Stripers are excellent eating fish and may be prepared in may ways. Smaller fish are usually fried and larger ones are baked.

Congress passed the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act in 1984. Maryland and Delaware imposed fishing moratoria from 1985 to 1989, and Virginia imposed a one-year moratorium in 1989. Although the fishery reopened in 1990 following three successful spawning years, it remains tightly restricted.

Today, there's evidence to suggest that the current regulations for most states are again hurting the fishery. Gary Shepherd, NOAA Fisheries' rep on ASMFC's Striped Bass Technical Committee, as follows: "In terms of total number of eggs, the spawning stock is now probably as large as it's ever been. But the big fish are getting cropped off. Most of them are gone by the age of about 15, and stripers can live to 30. So we're limiting their life span to about half." So we're now culling the largest egg producers and probably weeding out heredity traits for producing large fish. .......


click for Massachussetts DNR profile

*(Scruggs, George. The Rockfish Puzzle-Are They Landlocked? South Carolina Wildlife. Summer, 1954. Pages 4-5.). The research was done in 1964 by scruggs.
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