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Ask Frank Daignault Frank Daignault is recognized as an authority on surf fishing for striped bass. He is the author of six books and hundreds of magazine articles. Frank is a member of the Outdoor Writers of America and lectures throughout the Northeast.

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Old 12-15-2010, 11:45 AM
Chris Garrity Chris Garrity is offline
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Default Fascinating Article on Striper Spawning

Research shows rain, temperature in spring affects striped bass

Posted: 6:20 pm Tue, December 14, 2010
By Bay Journal News Service
Karl Blankenship

More than two months before biologists threw their first net into the water to gauge the success of this year?s striped bass reproduction, Ed Martino had the answer, and he never had to leave his desk.

Rockfish reproduction, Martino determined in May, would be ?well below average.?

The researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration?s Cooperative Oxford Laboratory came up with his conclusion by going online and looking at March though May river flows monitored by the U.S. Geological Survey and temperature data from Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport for the same period, then plugging the information into a mathematical model.

While Martino crunched numbers in his office, a team of biologists from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources waded into the water at 22 locations once a month from July through September. At each site, they did two sweeps through the water with a 100-foot seine net, then counted everything they caught.

When the work was done, the biologists had averaged 5.6 juvenile striped bass per net haul. That was less than half the long-term average of 11.6. After all of their field work, they had reached the same conclusion as Martino.

His model, which was developed with data from the DNR, confirms what biologists have thought for years: The weather during any given spring plays a huge role in determining how many larval striped bass survive to be ?recruited? into the overall population. But his model puts an exclamation point to just how important weather is: In looking back to 1985, he can account for more than 80 percent of the annual variability in striped bass recruitment in Maryland, where the majority of the East Coast population is spawned.

This year, the model successfully predicted a poor year even though many fishery biologists ? including Martino ? thought it would be good.

But that predictability may contain a hint of problems on the horizon for striped bass. Although the coast-wide population remains above target levels, striped bass recruitment in Maryland has been below average for three consecutive years, largely because the weather hasn?t cooperated.

?The bay is full of spawners, but we are seeing a real reduction in recent years in reproduction,? Martino said. ?So I think it?s pretty obvious that something else is going on in the environment.?

That ?something else? may be found in work done by Bob Wood, the NOAA scientist in charge of the Oxford Lab. Wood suggests that a broader, long-lasting climate pattern called the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation may be affecting striped bass and other fish.

The Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation is an alternating pattern of warming and cooling over large areas of the Atlantic Ocean, similar to the El Nino, La Nina patterns in the Pacific. The shifts affect climate over large regions of North America. Various AMO phases, during which different parts of the Atlantic are warmed or cooled, persist for decades.

During certain AMO phases, which promote wetter winters, cool springs and more frequent nor?easters, the prevailing pattern seems to promote improved reproductive success for anadromous fish, such as striped bass, which live most of their lives at sea but return to freshwater to spawn.

During other AMO phases, which promote drier, warmer springs, the situation is reversed, with fish such as menhaden, that spawn on the coastal shelf and whose larvae use estuaries for nurseries, getting a boost. During those times, striped bass reproduction takes a hit.

Wood says those phase shifts are strongly correlated with the rise and fall of striped bass and menhaden stocks in the past.

Striped bass crashed because of overfishing in the 1980s, which was also a time when the AMO was in a phase unfavorable for their recruitment, so fish being caught were not being replaced. The ensuing rebound of striped bass stocks is often touted as a major fishery management success as managers took drastic actions, including a coast-wide moratorium, to protect the spawning stock. And it was. But Wood?s work strongly suggests that managers also got lucky. Their fishing moratorium coincided with an AMO shift that greatly improved striped bass spawning conditions.

?Had the weather not turned, we would have been waiting longer for that recovery,? Wood said.

Meanwhile, as striped bass recruitment bottomed out in the 1970s and 1980s, menhaden recruitment soared, only to fall to persistent low levels in the 1990s and 2000s as striped bass again benefited from the prevailing climate cycles.

The exact reason why temperature and the timing of river flows is so important is less certain. Martino and Wood theorize the cool temperatures delay the production of plankton until striped bass larvae are most abundant. The high flows may push those plankton and striped bass larvae together so the larvae, which are poor swimmers, have plenty to eat.

Conversely, warmer years benefit larval menhaden, which use the same nursery grounds, but arrive earlier and eat different kinds of plankton.

A better understanding of these long-term patterns can be a huge aid for fishery managers. Had they understood they were in the midst of a down-cycle for striped bass recruitment in the 1980s, for instance, managers might have acted sooner to curb fishing pressure, Wood said.

There are problems in using the information in management, though. The understanding of regional climate patterns is far from complete, and it is much easier to observe what happened in the past than to predict what will happen in the future. As a result, it?s hard to say with certainty whether the last three years of poor reproduction stemmed from a change in the AMO and will persist into the future ? or their correlation is just coincidence.

Also, while striped bass recruitment has been poor the last three years, there?s been no boom in menhaden recruitment. The menhaden recruitment index remains below average.


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I found the information on the "Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation" thing particularly fascinating. Ever wonder why stocks go boom and bust? Fishing has an impact, sure, but the changing of conditions over a period of 20 or 30 years is an interesting theory. It would explain why fish populations get huge, and then the fish all but disappear, only to come back like gangbusters a generation later.
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Old 12-15-2010, 01:29 PM
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Default Re: Fascinating Article on Striper Spawning

this is a fascinating article, though I am still amazed that the correlation between spring rainfall and anadromous fish (or frankly studies correlating related salinity for estuary spawning fish in general) haven't been done and considered. Guess it just took a while for all the technology and knowledge base to catch up. Perhaps there just was a critical mass of data allowing the correlations to be more clearly seen and/or proven.

things do take time.

thanks for sharing!
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Old 12-15-2010, 01:48 PM
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Default Re: Fascinating Article on Striper Spawning

Good article - reminds me of the studies they completed on the adverse effect of acid rain pulses flowing into Chesapeake spawning grounds. I believe in the 1970s.

Another theory was sun spot activity affecting spawning. I remember reading an article about it in, of all magazines, Sports Illustrated. Also in the 70s.

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Old 12-15-2010, 04:54 PM
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Default Re: Fascinating Article on Striper Spawning

The sun spot theory you are talking about Dennis originated in SWS and they recinded it as a mistake. Next we have to know the dynamics of Hudson and Delaware river spawning and what conditions control them.
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Old 12-17-2010, 09:20 AM
Tightline Tightline is offline
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Default Re: Fascinating Article on Striper Spawning

I have read that striper eggs need movement to survive. They do not get enough oxygen if they sink to the bottom, where they are likely to get covered, etc. The article suggested water flow was critical. If true, the flow rates in rivers, which must be tied to rainfall, etc., are a good starting point for predicting if reproduction rates will be up or down.
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Old 12-17-2010, 10:28 AM
Chris Garrity Chris Garrity is offline
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Default Re: Fascinating Article on Striper Spawning

The sad fact about this is that there's so much that the biologists just don't know. There are so many variables involved in spawning success that it's impossible to pin down success or failure on one or two factors. Sure, water flow matters, but how do you control it? And if the Chesapeake continues its long, slow demise, is water movement going to matter anyway?

The prudent thing to do in situations like this would be acting conservatively on all fronts until we're reasonably sure that the stocks are in good shape. This would mean letting comms and recs kill fewer fish, limiting the fertilizers that drain into the Chessy and the waters feeding it, and making drastic reductions in how many bunker Omega protein is permitted to scoop from Chesapeake waters. Sadly, I don't see any of this happening, and if we don't get a good spawning year soon, things may get really, really bad before they get better.
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Old 04-05-2014, 02:49 PM
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Default Re: Fascinating Article on Striper Spawning

Here is an interesting thread on striper production that deserves a new look.
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Old 11-24-2014, 08:43 AM
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Default Re: Fascinating Article on Striper Spawning

Probably another thread somewhere that has it... but someone posted
this about the chessy yoy index:

If you look at the index, view a striped bass year/growth chart and read the reports, it's scary how folks think there is nothing wrong with the population.

Below is the Chesapeake Young of Year index for the last 10 years.

2004 far above average

2005 above average
2006 far below average
2007 just above average
2008 far below average
2009 below average
2010 far below average
2011 far above average
2012 Almost zero. This was the worst YOY index since they have been recorded.
2013 far below average
2014 slightly below average

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Old 11-24-2014, 11:40 AM
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Default Re: Fascinating Article on Striper Spawning

Yes, there is cause for concern on striper population dynamics. Our challenge seems to be that is something we are unable to do anything about. Nobody seems to be able to determine what causes these hard up and down movements in population. Sure, the presumption is that too many breeders are killed but the whole issue lacks hard evidence other than that there are less stripers. The core question is WHY
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Old 11-24-2014, 12:49 PM
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Default Re: Fascinating Article on Striper Spawning

Quote:
Originally Posted by Frank Daignault View Post
The sun spot theory you are talking about Dennis originated in SWS and they recinded it as a mistake. Next we have to know the dynamics of Hudson and Delaware river spawning and what conditions control them.
Here are the Hudson YOY numbers from the NYSDEC's website. The bad numbers the past two years resulted from the scrubbing that the river got from Hurricane Irene and then Sandy the following year which decimated a lot of the plant life vital to the survival of small fish. The YOY numbers this year in the Hudson sound like they will be right around average.
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Old 11-24-2014, 02:52 PM
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Default Re: Fascinating Article on Striper Spawning

Also always wondered what % of Hudson (or even Delaware) fish contribute to our local, NJ, populations we see.

Down in Stone Harbor, a local guide's "belief" is that the resident fish, who are in the backbays throughout the summer (primarily males with some big females hanging), are Delaware spawn fish. Of course, without tagging no one can prove that.
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Old 11-24-2014, 03:18 PM
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Default Re: Fascinating Article on Striper Spawning

Not only tagging because when and before you tag you have to know a fish's river of origin. I think, though I do not know if that is feasible, DNA would identify river-of-origin or race of striper you are dealing with.

Rob, years back they used to say that ten percent of migratory stripers were of Hudson River origin. This raises a couple of further questions: Was the 10 percent determination properly established ? Never forget that it could have been arrived at through some bogus, voodoo, potluck government financed BS. And, secondly, what is the percentage breakdown today?
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Old 11-24-2014, 04:23 PM
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Default Re: Fascinating Article on Striper Spawning

Frank,

I agree that DNA studies are probably the only reliable way to determine river of origin, as our state biologists (and those in other states) have done identifying the original brook trout (so-called "Heritage") genetic strain in our local NE waters.

Tagging is probably more feasible, in that if you catch young stripers up the Delaware or Hudson, for example and say they are in the 12-18" range.... the likelihood is they are local river spawned stripers. Guaranteed? maybe not, but it would be a start to get anglers to start tagging them at that stage.

Secondly, if you catch a tagged fish way up a river in the spring, the likelihood is that it is returning to its native water to spawn, and not crossing over from the Hudson to the Delaware or vice versa. At least according to what theories are out there that I've heard of or read.
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Old 11-24-2014, 05:43 PM
Chris Garrity Chris Garrity is offline
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Default Re: Fascinating Article on Striper Spawning

Quote:
Originally Posted by RobS View Post
Down in Stone Harbor, a local guide's "belief" is that the resident fish, who are in the backbays throughout the summer (primarily males with some big females hanging), are Delaware spawn fish. Of course, without tagging no one can prove that.
It's all speculation. That guide (the guy who can't sleep, I'm assuming) doesn't know any more than you or I do. He may think that they're Delaware fish -- but he's just guessing. If I have a different opinion -- and I do; I think the resident fish are Mullica River spawners -- it doesn't mean that my take isn't a guess too. It is.

There's more pseudoscience when it comes to fish stocks, and the different races of bass, than you can shake a bunker spoon at. Here's one: it's been widely stated, for decades, that the Chesapeake stock makes up 90% of the coastwide bass population. Where did this number come from? I don't know for sure, but I have a hunch that someone pulled it out of his ash.

Here's another one: there are local guys in Atlantic and Cape May Counties who think that the Hudson race of bass overwinters not near Virginia Beach, as the Chessy stock does; nor in Delaware Bay, where the Delaware River spawners are thought to overwinter; but in Raritan Bay. Moreover, it has been speculated -- I have heard it myself -- that the Hudson River race of bass does not travel farther south than Island Beach State Park. This has emerged as a hypothesis because in each of the last few autumns, including this year, the bassing has been way, way better in Central to North Jersey than it has been south of LBI, and the locals have come up with the theory that Hudson fish staying north of IBSP are the explanation.

Is any of this stuff true? I have no idea; we're all just guessing. There's nothing wrong with guessing, but let's just admit that we're throwing darts at the program.
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Old 11-24-2014, 11:25 PM
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Default Re: Fascinating Article on Striper Spawning

This is total speculation on my part, but I've heard from friends' experiences and from reports in lower New England tribs of bass being taken in winter. From what it sounds like, most of this occurs in lower parts of the rivers nearer to tidewater, and in the earlier part of winter ...December/January. Most of these fish seem to be sub 30". Seems like they're hanging out close to where they were raised, and near the warmest water. I don't pretend to know how bass compare to steelhead, but steelies (in Lake Ontario) spend 1-4 years in a trib before permanently...at least for a few years...drop down and feed in the lake. MOST of those fish eventually return to their natal rivers, but some try to get their DNA into other tribs' gene pools. I'm thinking that smaller bass may do something similar while the big girls winter off shore.
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