Future of striped bass is iffy, but catfish are thriving

The number of striped bass (also called rockfish) netted by researchers this year is down slightly, and the ratio of male to female is off the charts in favor of the females.

Every year since 1985 biologists from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources have been attempting to get an educated guess on how many rockfish are in the Chesapeake Bay. They catch and tag the fish near spawning sights in the Potomac River and Upper Chesapeake.

Using a net, they caught 1,936 rockfish this year; 1,446 in the Upper Chesapeake Bay and 490 on the Potomac River. Of the 1,446 striped bass in the Upper Chesapeake Bay, there were 124 females and 1,322 males. In the Potomac River there were 46 females and 444 males sampled.

That’d be great news for women, but not good for the future of striped bass. The study results will be sent to the federal government and the consortium of Atlantic states called the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) for review and possible policy changes as a result.

Striped bass survey 1985-2016
Courtesy Maryland Department of Natural Resources

On the flip side, blue catfish are invading the Potomac River big-time. Not so much in the Upper Chesapeake. Only eight have been caught by researchers in the Upper Bay spawning grounds in the last 11 years.

Sport fishermen dropped catfish from other bodies of water into the Chesapeake Bay back in the 1970s. Now, the invasive species is starting to take over certain areas.

Check this out: in 1996, researchers caught only three catfish in the Potomac River. Since then, a total of 15,784 blue catfish have been sampled there.

Striped bass & cat fish catch rate 1996-2016
Graph courtesy Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Blue catfish are a cause for concern given their aggressive feeding habits, growing to over 100 pounds and lack of natural predators. Scientists are worried they’ll push out the striped bass.

Chesapeake Bay blue catfish
80 pound blue catfish. (Photo courtesy Joseph Schmitt)

Officials are asking fishermen to catch as many catfish as they can and eat them or just kill them.



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