Every year, millions of beach-goers swim in the same waters as one of New England’s top predators. No, it’s not the infamous White Shark and no, it wouldn’t (and couldn’t) ever harm a person. I’m talking about the voracious, elusive, and delicious Striped Bass. The cousin of White Perch and White Bass, Striped Bass can grow to over 4 feet in length and are considered anadromous; they spawn (i.e., reproduce) in freshwater and estuaries, but spend the majority of their life in saltwater. The Striped Bass we have in New England typically spawn in the Mid-Atlantic and migrate north during the spring and summer and return south in the fall. Striped Bass, also called stripers or rockfish, were a staple in colonial America and also provided an important food source for Native Americans. The sale of Striped Bass even helped finance public schools in the late 17th century. Hundreds of years later in the 1980’s, we were close to losing Striped Bass along the Atlantic Coast all together, but thanks to good fisheries management, the population was allowed to recover and has since reached historical levels. Today, Striped Bass are targeted by recreational and commercial fishermen and women and operate as a critical predator in coastal ecosystems.
Striped Bass – the Predator
As Striped Bass migrate north, they often travel in large schools searching for ample supplies of food in New England. Research by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries estimates that in northern Massachusetts alone, Striped Bass annually consume over 5,500 tons of prey. Yes, you read that right – 5,500 tons (that is equal to the weight of over 2,700 pick-up trucks)! But what is perhaps most interesting about this predator, is their ability to adapt to numerous ecological conditions, such that they are considered generalist predators and can feed on a variety of prey species. Many species of fish specialize in eating just a few things, but Striped Bass will often chase after fast-moving baitfish like Herring, Mackerel, and Menhaden and will regularly chomp down on the iconic American Lobster or other crustaceans such as the invasive Green Crab.
Striped Bass – the Gamefish
Their insatiable appetite coupled with their diverse diet make Striped Bass a prime target for fishermen and women along the coast. Striped Bass are also one of the few large-bodied fish that swim just feet away from the shoreline in New England, allowing both boaters and shore-bound anglers to target them (anglers being a term for fishermen and women that use a rod and reel to catch fish). These attributes make them a popular fish; last year people in Massachusetts took over 1.1 million trips to catch Striped Bass! The total costs associated with these fishing trips are enormous and significantly contribute to our coastal economy. It is estimated that over $600 million dollars are annually spent in Massachusetts alone on fishing-related expenditures, such as on fishing lures, bait, and gas used to power boats.
Striped Bass – the Meal
While the vast majority of Striped Bass caught by anglers ultimately get released to fight another day, they can also be harvested (caught for food) and offer excellent table fare. Slightly firmer than a typical flaky white-fish like Cod or Haddock, Striped Bass hold up well on the grill or can be cooked on the stove or in the oven. My personal favorite, seafood-cakes, are made by combining boiled and shredded Striped Bass with crab meat and bread crumbs, formed into patties, and cooked hot on a pan with butter. Considered to a have a mild flavor, they are popular in coastal New England restaurants which fuels a commercial fishery for the sale of Striped Bass. Many fishermen and women rely on the profits from this fishery, as over four thousand permits to commercially fish for Striped Bass were sold in Massachusetts last year. For these reasons, you can feel good about eating this locally harvested, native fish.
As both a commercially and recreationally targeted species, the Striped Bass is not only a valuable component of our coastal economy, but also embodies New England’s historic and current fishing culture. They play a critical role in near-shore ecosystems and represent a major success story in the conservation era. With any luck, Striped Bass will continue to roam our home waters for many years to come.
Storey DA, Allen PG. Economic impact of marine recreational fishing in Massachusetts. 409 North American Journal of Fisheries Management. 1993;13(4):698-708. 410
Atlantic Striped Bass Stock Assessment Update 2015. In: Commission ASMF, editor. 411 2015. 412
Richards RA, Rago PJ. A case history of effective fishery management: Chesapeake Bay 413 striped bass. North American Journal of Fisheries Management. 1999;19(2):356-75. 414
Cole JN. Striper, a Story of Fish and Man: Lyons & Burford; 1989.
Nelson GA, Chase BC, Stockwell JD. Population Consumption of Fish and Invertebrate Prey by Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis) from Coastal Waters of Northern Massachusetts, USA. J. Northw. Atl. Fish. Sci. 2006; 36: 111-126