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Striped Bass

striped bass tagged by DEC staff
Striped bass are tagged by DEC to learn migration patterns
fish movements and harvest rates

The striped bass (Morone saxatilis), also known as the striper or rockfish, is easily identified by the dark horizontal stripes across its silvery body. Striped bass can grow to more than 48 inches (122 cm), weigh over 50 pounds (23 kg) and live up to 30 years. The New York State record is a 76 pound (34 kg) fish caught off Montauk in 1981. The largest striped bass on record is a 125 pound (56 kg) female caught off North Carolina in 1891. Most really big striped bass, specifically those over 30 pounds, are likely to be female. These big fish are often referred to as "cows." Striped bass have a varied diet; they prey on fish, such as menhaden and eel, and on crustaceans and other invertebrates, including crabs, lobster, and squid. These fish range along the Atlantic coast from the St. Lawrence River in Canada to the St. Johns River in Florida.

Striped bass are anadromous fish: they are spawned in freshwater rivers but live their adult lives in the ocean. In New York, the Hudson River is the main spawning ground for striped bass. In the spring, mature striped bass swim up to the headwaters of the Hudson to spawn. The fertilized eggs float downstream until hatching a few days after spawning. The bass larvae continue to move downstream until they reach the estuaries, areas such as Haverstraw Bay to the Tappan Zee Bridge. These areas function as nursery areas for the larvae and juvenile fish during the summer. By late summer and into fall, these "young-of-the-year" fish move into the estuaries of New York Harbor and western Long Island bays, where they will live until they are large enough to join the adults off the coast. Adult striped bass follow a seasonal migration pattern. They swim south and offshore from New York waters during the winter and migrate back north and inshore in the spring. In the spring, mature adults once again head up river to spawn.

The striped bass has always been an important recreational and commercial fish and has a long history of management along the eastern seaboard. It was the first fish to have harvest regulations put in place. During early colonial times striped bass were so numerous that they were used for fertilizing farm fields. Realizing the importance of these fish as food, Massachusetts banned the practice in the 1600's. Throughout the 20th century, there were many attempts at striped bass conservation and coast-wide management. These attempts, however, were unsuccessful and could not prevent a collapse of the population in the early 1980s. Strict management measures were passed to help the population recover. The striped bass is a true success story in fisheries management. By 1995 the population was rebuilt and today the Atlantic coast population is healthy and is no longer being overfished.

In New York the striped bass is a very popular game fish for recreational anglers because of its size and the spirited fight it shows once hooked. It's also a delicious fish and is quite good any way you prepare it: smoked, grilled, baked or fried. The open recreational season for striped bass taken from marine waters south of the George Washington Bridge is slightly different from the open season for striped bass taken from the Hudson River, north of the George Washington Bridge. There are also specific possession limits for anglers onboard licensed party or charter boats. Be sure to check the marine recreational fishing limits before you go fishing for that record striper!

New York's recreational anglers can help in the management of the striped bass by joining DEC's Striped Bass Cooperative Anglers Program. This program enlists the help of anglers to collect important data during their fishing trips, including total catch, length, weight, water conditions and scale samples. This information is used to create length at age keys and determine fishing success which helps assess the population.

New York State also has a commercial striped bass fishery. Striped bass taken commercially must be caught east of the East Rockaway Inlet on the south shore of Long Island and east of Wading River Creek on the north shore. The Hudson River and waters near New York City are closed to commercial fishing because of health concerns due to past concentrations of PCBs in those areas. In order to participate in the commercial striped bass fishery, you must possess both a striped bass commercial harvesters permit and a food fish license. At this time no new striped bass permits are being issued by DEC. Detailed rules and regulations for commercial fishing can be found in 6 NYCRR Part 40 of the fish and wildlife regulations of New York.

DEC biologist holding a large bass
This striped bass was sampled during a DEC survey
in western Long Island Sound. It was released after
scales were collected for ageing.

DEC biologists survey striped bass populations in different parts of the marine district. In western Long Island Sound, biologists conduct surveys for yearling striped bass migrating to estuarine waters from their natal freshwater rivers. Surveys are also conducted in the Hudson River, Jamaica Bay and along the south shore of eastern Long Island. Any striped bass taken during the survey is weighed, measured for total length, tagged, and scales are collected for later ageing. All fish are then released.

Due to its historical significance and importance in the recreational and commercial fisheries, the striped bass is now the official saltwater (marine) fish of the State of New York.