Striped bass are members of the family Percichthyidae, the temperate basses. They are elongated with 7-8 dark stripes extending horizontally, a dark olive to steel blue back and silver underside with a brassy sheen. The two dorsal fins are separated by a gap, and two spines are present on the edge of the opercle. The caudal fin, or tail, of striped bass is clearly forked. Males reach a maximum length of 116 cm (45 in), whereas females grow to about 183 cm (72 in). Maximum weight is about 57 kg (125 lbs) with the South Carolina record being over 23 kg (50 lbs). In 1965, South Carolina biologists were able to cross, or hybridize, white bass (Morone chrysops) with striped bass. The resulting fry survived, and since then, other hybrids have been produced between striped bass and other species of the genus Morone. White bass are smaller than both striped bass and its hybrid. They are light green to gray above and silvery below with no distinct lines or stripes and have a small head and arched back. Striped bass are the largest of the three. As described above, their coloration is dark, they have a large head and mouth, and the back is not arched. The hybrid looks like a combination of the two, with the characteristic back-arch of the white bass, a small head, and dark gray or blue body and stripes that are frequently broken.
Habitat and Biology
Striped bass are native to the Atlantic coast, from the St. Lawrence River, Canada, to the St. John's River, Florida. On the Gulf coast, it is distributed from the Suwannee River, Florida, to eastern Texas. Because striped bass can live in fresh water for long periods of time, they are stocked in many inland reservoirs. However, only two East Coast reservoirs have self-sustaining populations: the Kerr Reservoir in Virginia and North Carolina, and the Santee-Cooper Reservoir in South Carolina.
Striped bass are native to the ACE Basin. They belong to the southern strain and behave quite differently from their northern relatives. Southern fish, unlike northern fish, never leave their riverine environments. Northern fish spend a considerable amount of time in near-shore waters and then ascend the rivers to spawn. Striped bass in the ACE Basin never enter the ocean, and it is strongly suspected that they never leave the river in which they are born. Striped bass are found in all the large rivers of the ACE Basin, and they over-winter in the estuarine areas of these systems near the saltwater-freshwater interface. Summers are spent in the cooler waters of the upper river, where springs and a dense canopy of trees keep water temperatures lower. They are often found in deep holes in the river or around structures such as old pilings.
Striped bass are schooling, anadromous fish; that is, they spend much of their time in salt water but migrate to fresh water rivers to spawn. However, landlocked populations spend their entire life in freshwater and do not migrate. Bass from North Carolina and the Chesapeake Bay are known to undertake coastwide migrations in addition to annual spawning migrations. They move north to New England and Canada during early spring and return between September and December. Bass inhabiting waters south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, typically do not take part in coastal migrations. Recent advances in molecular genetics have allowed researchers to investigate differences in populations of striped bass. Evidence strongly indicates that the rivers of the ACE Basin contain a population of striped bass that is unique to the basin.
In South Carolina, spawning migrations typically begin in March, when water temperatures exceed 58o F, and continue through early summer, with males arriving at spawning grounds before females. Fish move to areas just upstream of the saltwater-freshwater interface, where the female releases her eggs to be fertilized by any pursuing males. The semi-buoyant eggs then drift in the tidal currents for several days until they hatch. Spawning success is often sporadic because of the limited range of environmental conditions required for eggs to hatch and larvae to grow. Sexual maturity occurs around the fifth year at about 71 cm (28 in) in length. Eggs are pelagic, and larvae hatch in approximately 2-3 days. Larvae depend on endogenous nutrition for the first 5-10 days. Endogenous nutrition means that larvae derive nutrients and energy from the material contained in their yolk sacs. After this stage, once larvae have well-developed mouths, they begin to feed on zooplankton . Juveniles feed on a variety of worms, small crustaceans, insects, and fishes. In freshwater impoundments, fish such as herring, alewife, and shads constitute the main diet of the adult striped bass, while fishes, squid, clams, lobsters, crabs, shrimps, and other invertebrates are taken by adults in open-water habitats.
This species of bass has historically been America's most important recreational and commercial fish. Sportfishing attracts many fishermen to South Carolina. Historically, the commercial industry for striped bass has added millions to the state's economy, being an important income and employment opportunity in the coastal areas. Hatcheries exist throughout the East Coast. This bass species is also used as a "biological control" to regulate gizzard shad and herring populations in large reservoirs.
In the 1950s, the striped bass population in South Carolina exploded, causing an increase in recreational fishing, especially in the Santee-Cooper Reservoir. This population growth eventually caused a decrease in striped bass's feeding fish, the herring and shad, causing their populations to plummet. Consequently, the striped bass population in the Santee-Cooper also began to decline due to starvation. This "boom-bust" cycle is common to many fish species. A significant decline of striped bass throughout the East Coast began in the late 1970s. The U.S. Congress responded to this in 1979 by amending the Anadromous Fish Conservation Act to include an emergency striped bass study. In 1981, the ASMFC published an Interstate Fisheries Management Plan for Striped Bass. In 1980 the Striped Bass Study was implemented to identify possible causes of the decline of striped bass and to outline an action plan and research program to address these causes. Possible causes of fish decline include over-harvesting, habitat deterioration, contaminants, and industrial development. In 1984 the U.S. Congress passed the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act, requiring a federal moratorium on striped bass fishing in those states which have not adopted the recommended management measures of the ASFMC Plan or are not satisfactorily enforcing these measures.
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