Striped bass (rockfish) are distributed along the Atlantic coast from the St. Lawrence River in Canada to St. Johns River in Florida. They are an anadromous fish which spends most of its life in bays and the ocean, but travels up its natal stream or river in the spring to spawn.
Due to over-harvest and habitat degradation, striped bass populations suffered severe declines in the 1970's. In 1979, Section 7 of the Emergency Striped Bass Act (Emergency Striped Bass Study) was enacted to assess the causes of the decline and recommend measures for restoration. The Act instructed the Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce to develop studies to assess the size of the migratory stock, investigate the causes of the decline, calculate its economic importance and recommend measures for restoration.
From 1985 to 1990, a fishing moratorium was imposed by the coastal states from North Carolina to Maine to protect the remaining wild striped bass stocks. During the moratorium and subsequent years, over 9 million tagged hatchery-reared striped bass fingerlings were released into the Chesapeake Bay. Hatchery-reared striped bass were marked with internal binary coded wire tags. These tags were used to gather information on the contribution of hatchery-reared fish to the wild population. As hoped, wild fish soon out-numbered hatchery fish in the Chesapeake Bay. By 1996, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources reported that the young-of-the-year index was the highest it had been since the survey was begun in 1954.
To continue monitoring striped bass populations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and partners have tagged almost 500,000 striped bass with external anchor or "spaghetti" tags as part of the coast-wide striped bass cooperative tagging program. Since 1985, the Maryland Fishery Resources Office (MFRO) has managed a central database to store this tagging data. Recreational and commercial fishermen have played a crucial role in making the tagging program successful by reporting over 85,000 recaptures via a toll-free phone number to the MFRO. The information gathered in this database is used to develop management techniques to maintain a sustainable striped bass fishery.
Tag return data has provided a better understanding of migratory patterns of striped bass. For example, the tagging program has confirmed that some 1-2 year old striped bass leave bays and estuaries to forage along the coastline. Such movement demonstrates that the fish use a wider range of habitats and are exposed to different mortality pressures then originally believed. Movement of these fish could only be detected with this type of tagging data. Tag returns have also provided information on migration rates. It is now known that striped bass are capable of swimming 500 miles in as little as a month at an average of 16 miles per day.
If you catch a tagged striped bass, please cut off the tag and record the date, location, and method of capture. Call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 1-800-448-8322 to report the information. Anyone reporting a tag will receive a certificate of participation and a reward.