About half of striped bass sold in markets is farmed and referred to as hybrid striped bass. More than two-thirds of the striped bass harvest is landed by fishermen from Maryland and Virginia. The highest quality stripers are caught in the late fall and winter. After stripers spawn in the spring and summer, their flesh loses fat - and flavor. Smaller stripers under 10 pounds tend to have more tender flesh. As a rule, pound net and trap-caught fish will be the best quality. When cooked, the flesh is white and moist and the cooked crispy skin is also known for its popular taste. When buying fresh striped bass look for bright red gills and a sweet smell.
Key sustainability sourcing notes for striped bass based on landings from 2012-2015 and the most recent 2016 Seafood Watch assessment:
~20% of U.S. landings meet the "Best Choice (green)" rating (hook and line-caught from the U.S. Atlantic)
~65% of U.S. landings meet the "Good Alternative (yellow)" rating (gillnet and pound net-caught from the U.S. Atlantic)
~15% of U.S. landings are unrated
Landings from 2012-2015 show a general decline, with 2015 landings ~30% less than in 2012
For seafood meeting the "Best Choice" rating, ~40% comes from Massachusetts, ~30% from Maryland, ~20% from New York, and ~5% from both Rhode Island and Virginia. For seafood meeting the "Good Alternative" rating, ~40% comes from both Maryland and Virginia, ~10% from New York, and ~5% from Massachusetts. For unrated seafood, ~45% comes from Massachusetts, ~15% from Delaware, ~10% from Maryland, Rhode Island, and Virginia each.
Striped bass are long lived, up to 30 years and can reach lengths of five feet and 80 pounds. Males reach maturity between 2 and 4, while females reach maturity from 4-8 years. Striped bass have 7-8 continuous stripes with a variety of colors ranging from light green or olive to brown or black. Juvenile fish feed on everything from insects and crustaceans to other finfish while adults prey almost exclusively on finfish. Juvenile striped bass are targeted by groundfish such as Atlantic cod and silver hake, whereas adult striped bass have few predators outside of sharks and seals.
Striped bass are native to the Atlantic coast from Florida to Canada as well as the Gulf of Mexico, but the commercial fishery is limited to the stretch from Maine to North Carolina. Striped bass were also introduced on the U.S. West Coast. Striped bass migrate inshore to spawn in estuaries in the spring and summer. Juvenile fish spend 2-4 years in coastal waters before migrating to the open ocean, although a given fish may spend most of its time in either the estuary or open ocean environment. The Chesapeake Bay historically accounted for ~90% of striped bass nursing grounds.
Science & Management
In 2013, the striped bass stock assessment indicated the species is not overfished or experiencing overfishing, but the spawning stock biomass (SSB) has declined since 2004 and is just above the target threshold. Striped bass are important predators and scientists are working at developing models that incorporate all the different interactions striped bass have in the food web.
U.S. federal waters (>3 miles offshore) are closed to striped bass fishing and are managed by each state with commercial fisheries individually, but also coordinated across states by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). State and federal efforts at stock management are directed by the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act and the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act.
State management uses efforts such as state-specific quotas, minimum size limits, gear restrictions, and seasonal closures as control measures. Five states are currently closed to the commercial harvest of striped bass: Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, striped bass was overfished in the Chesapeake Bay. Pollution there also contributed to a decimated population. However, effective management measures have helped striped bass to return to record abundance. Today, the abundance is considered to be high. Striped bass, found along the U.S. Atlantic coast, are extremely fecund with a long reproductive lifespan so the species tends to be particularly resilient to fishing pressure.
Habitat impacts (Wild)
Striped bass are mainly caught using gillnets, as well as trawls, hook and line, haul seines and pound nets. The gear used to catch striped bass has a minimal impact on ocean habitats.
The overall level of bycatch in the striped bass fishery is currently unknown. Gillnets are size-selective, which means there are fewer discards with this gear compared to others. The Blue Ocean Institute reported that marine mammals and sea birds are susceptible to getting caught in gillnets and called the bycatch levels in this fishery a moderate concern.
The striped bass fishery has substantial, strict management measures that include minimum size limits, quotas, scientific monitoring, gear restrictions, and seasonal fishery closures. A bycatch-monitoring program was set up within the past several years to study discards and help fishermen reduce their discards.