On Tuesday, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries released an article by DMF biologist Ben Gahagan highlighting a striped bass study that has been underway since 2015. Over the next three to four years, analyses of acoustic telemetry and genetics studies noted below will be ongoing.
The study has been supported by recreational-permit funds and should pay back that investment with information that will allow DMF to maximize opportunity for striped bass anglers while ensuring that those opportunities are there in future years.
Money spent by anglers in Massachusetts to catch striped bass is about $600 million annually, according to Ben Gahagan, so striped bass fishing is a big contributor to the Massachusetts economy.
Gahagan said, “Striped bass have been the focus of several recent management actions following a sustained period of poor spawning success in the Chesapeake Bay, which has historically contributed the majority of stripers to the coastal stock. These are the migratory bass that Massachusetts residents eagerly await to arrive as the spring days grow longer and the water warms … and then mourn in the late fall as the days once again grow short and the water cools.”
To study the migratory patterns of striped bass, Gahagan said, “During the summers of 2015 and 2016, DMF biologists tagged 260 striped bass in coastal waters of Massachusetts. Tagging was focused in three areas: Boston Harbor, the back side of Cape Cod, and Buzzards Bay/Vineyard Sound. Staff also spread tags out among size classes, focusing on fish below 28 inches that could not be kept, fish between 28 inches and 35 inches that could be kept recreationally, and fish 35 inches and up that were available to both recreational and commercial fishers (under the regulations at that time). These tags emit uniquely coded acoustic pulses that can be heard by hydrophone receivers up to a kilometer away.”
DMF maintains an array of more than 100 hydrophones to detect striped bass movements within Massachusetts waters, and because the technology is widely used by researchers along the coast, fish movement along their entire migratory route can be tracked. The division hopes to describe the fidelity to summer feeding areas, residence times, migratory routes, and spawning groups.
Scientists are still analyzing data, as it often takes a year or more to receive input from tags coastwide from the seven-year study. However, a few important conclusions based purely on data from Massachusetts receivers is available.
Gahagan said, “First, stripers in Massachusetts showed remarkable fidelity to broader areas of coastal Massachusetts, as 90 percent of tagged bass detected for four or more years returned to the same coastal area each year. Second, there appears to be little difference in spawning population composition among tagging areas. Most fish returned to the Hudson to spawn, followed by the Chesapeake, and then a very small contribution from the Delaware River (importantly, there was size difference, as fish larger than 35 inches were most often from the Chesapeake). Finally, the migratory route striped bass follow likely affects their mortality in Massachusetts waters because fish that summered north of Cape Cod used the Cape Cod Canal almost exclusively in both spring and fall, which appeared to lead to higher catch rates.”
From 2015 until 2020, DMF supplemented the acoustic telemetry work by collecting thousands of genetic samples from fish caught in both recreational and commercial fisheries throughout coastal Massachusetts. This can be thought of as a catalog of genetic signatures for different spawning populations.
Gahagan said, “By combining the samples collected from thousands of Massachusetts bass with the new baseline, DMF biologists can compare the spawning composition of tagged fish (which we also took samples from) to the actual fish caught by anglers and determine if the behaviors of tagged fish reflect the larger population they were sampled from and if the composition of spawning groups has changed over time.”
‘America the Beautiful’ first annual report
Hats off to the he Biden-Harris administration for developing such a comprehensive plan, the America the Beautiful initiative, to conserve and restore land and waters across the nation. See the first America the Beautiful annual report at www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/AtB-Year-One-Report_.pdf.
Released by the U.S. Departments of the Interior, Agriculture and Commerce, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the report outlines the collective work to pursue the first-ever national conservation goal established by a president — a goal of conserving at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.
The report on six key areas of focus also reviews steps the administration took this year to restore protections for important natural and cultural resources: to deepen partnerships and leverage resources with tribes, states, private landowners, and other stakeholders. Additionally, the report outlines steps taken to restore science and incorporate Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge into decision-making, and to take an inclusive and collaborative approach to the stewardship of the land and water resources that sustain the nation’s communities and economies.
President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides a major boost to the America the Beautiful initiative. The new law provides the largest investment in the resilience of physical and natural systems in American history and will help communities be more prepared for drought and wildfire; address the legacy of pollution from orphan wells and abandoned mines; invest in clean drinking water; fund watershed rehabilitation and flood-prevention projects; and improve coastal-resilience efforts.
In addition to the progress report, the Biden-Harris administration announced steps to ensure that the America the Beautiful initiative is both guided by and reflective of the priorities, needs, and inputs of local communities, tribes, states, landowners, hunters and fishers, and other important stakeholders. These steps include establishing the Marine and Coastal Area-Based Management Federal Advisory Committee.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will establish an advisory committee that will provide advice to the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere (NOAA Administrator) on science-based approaches to area-based protection, conservation, restoration, and management in marine and coastal areas, including the Great Lakes. The committee would be composed of representatives of diverse interests and perspectives, providing a forum for discussion and advice on opportunities to advance key priorities through NOAA programs and authorities: conservation of biodiversity, climate resilience, and expanding access to nature for underserved communities.
More to come on this important initiative as it develops.
Where’s the bite?
Cod. Party boats fishing for cod south of Cape Cod and off Rhode Island include the Frances Fleet at www.francesfleet.com, the Seven B’s at www.sevenbs.com, and the Island Current at www.islandcurrent.com.
Freshwater. As temperatures fall this week, check safe ice conditions with cities and towns. Fishing in ponds stocked this winter with trout should be a good bet for trout fishing at ponds not frozen yet. Anglers are reminded to renew their licenses for salt and freshwater for 2022.