Contacts: Dr. Gary Nelson and John Boardman

Massachusetts is currently home to the largest recreational striped bass fishery in the country. High population abundance of striped bass, the diversity of the Commonwealth's nearshore habitat, and many sources of food for stripers are major factors contributing to the success of this fishery. Without a doubt, striped bass are the backbone of our recreational industry and provide enjoyment to hundreds of thousands of recreational anglers each year. Accordingly, we give this important resource a high level of attention by conducting monitoring programs and many special investigations designed to support the regional planning process.

Long-term Monitoring

SADCT length frequency
Length frequency of striped bass in 2013 by disposition (harvested or released) and fishing mode (boat or shore).

Characterization of Commercial and Recreational Catches

Atlantic coast states that harvest striped bass are required, as part of the interstate management process, to characterize their landings. Monitoring of age, size, and sex composition of both commercial and recreational catch and landings of striped bass is indispensable for identifying the need for constructive revisions to management strategies and for confirming estimates of population parameters. In Massachusetts, we conduct annual sampling of the commercial harvest at seafood dealerships. Information on  length, weight, sex, and scales from about 400-800 stripers, are collected are collected per year.

Nelson, G. A. 2015. Massachusetts Striped Bass Monitoring Report for 2013. Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries Technical Report TR-59. pdf format of TR-59
file size 1MB

MarineFisheries recognizes the need to collect size and age information on recreationally-harvested and released striped bass. The Sportfish Angler Data Collection Team (SADCT) program was started in 2002 to solicit the help of volunteer recreational anglers to collect data during their fishing trips. Volunteer recreational anglers collect length data and scales from roughly 1,200-2,000 harvested and released fish per year to boost our sampling coverage.

Nelson, G. A. and J. Stritzel-Thomson. 2015. Summary of Recreational Fishery Data for Striped Bass Collected by Volunteer Anglers in Massachusetts. Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries Technical Report TR-60. pdf format of TR-60
file size 2MB

Age and Growth

One-year growth mark on a scale
One-year growth mark on a scale

We can observe annual "growth rings" on fish scales and use them to estimate age composition of the catches and rates of growth. Striped bass scales are aged by experience readers in our age and growth laboratory. Three to five clean scales are impressed into acetate by using a heat press. Scale impressions are viewed with transmitted light on image analysis software and a camera on a macro mirror stand. Annuli are defined as a disturbance in the circuli throughout the anterior portion of the scale and progressed through the base of the scale. One year is added to the age of fish captured before June 30, since annulus formation is not complete until the end of June.


Elzey, S. P., K. J. Trull, and K. A. Rogers. 2015. Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries Age and Growth Laboratory: Fish Aging Protocols. Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries Technical Report TR-58. pdf format of TR-58
file size 9MB

Tagging Studies

Anchor tag being inserted into striped bass before being released
Anchor tag being inserted into striped bass before being released

Tagging and long-term monitoring of tag recoveries improves understanding of distribution of and movement of Atlantic striped bass stocks and generates vital information about annual survival rates. A state-federal cooperative study—now the largest of its kind—has applied tags to more than 370,000 wild and hatchery striped bass since 1985. Massachusetts MarineFisheries began a striped bass tagging study in 1991 as part of this ongoing state-federal cooperative effort and has tagged and released over 10,000 fishes. We employ skilled charter boat captains to guide and collect fish from shoal feedings grounds around Cape Cod. Our study furnishes the largest proportion of legal-size fish to this overall effort. Striped bass tagged in Massachusetts' waters have been recaptured as far north as Nova Scotia, Canada and as far south as Ocracoke Inlet, North Carolina, USA.


Special Projects

Hook and Release Mortality

Abstract: Despite the importance of the recreational fishery for striped bass Morone saxatilis along the eastern coast of the United States, little is known about the survival rates of caught and released striped bass. We predicted long-term (58-d) hooking mortality of striped bass after catch and release in saltwater using a logistic regression model. Experimental fishing was conducted on fish (27-57 cm) in a 2-ha saltwater impoundment in Salem, Massachusetts. Depth of hook penetration in the oral cavity, anatomical site of hooking, gear type (treble or single hooks), and angler experience were significantly related to mortality (P<0.05). The logistic regression models was developed with backwards stepwise selection to predict probability of death from hooking. The final model included depth of hook penetration, gear type, and angler experience as predictor variables. Predicted mortality ranged from 3% under the most favorable conditions to 26% for the worst set of conditions. Predicted as well as observed mortality for the entire experimental group was 9% which is generally much lower than reported in striped bass hooking mortality studies conducted in freshwater. At the end of the experiment, condition factors were significantly lower for surviving hooked fish than for fish that had not been hooked.

Diodati, P. J. and R. A. Richards. 1996. Mortality of striped bass hooked and released in salt water. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 125: 300-307. pdf format of Diodati and Richards. 1996.

Diet and Bioenergetics of  Striped Bass

MarineFisheries conducted a study from 1997 to 2000 to address the issues of forage needs of the recovered striped bass population and the potential impacts of striped bass consumption on economically important prey species. This MarineFisheries research project was designed to provide diet information of striped bass and to build a computer-based bioenergetic model that allows us to estimate consumption rates of striped bass for  particular food items such as, river herring, menhaden, and even the commercially-important lobster. Diet information was collected from over 3,000 striped bass collected from the North Shore, Cape Cod Bay, and Nantucket Sound regions of Massachusetts. Findings of the study are summarized below.

Food Habits of Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis) in Coastal Waters of Massachusetts.

Striped bass usually eat lobsters less than two inches long (carapace length)
Striped bass usually eat lobsters less than two inches long (carapace length)

Abstract: Stomach contents of striped bass (Morone saxatilis) collected from three coastal regions of Massachusetts during June-September in 1997-2000 were examined for patterns in prey composition and body size related to coastal region, time period of capture, foraging habitat, and length of striped bass. Together fish (mostly Clupeidae, Menidia sp., and Ammodytes sp.) and crustaceans (mostly Crangon septemspinosa, Cancer irroratus, and Homarus americanus) dominated the diet of striped bass by both weight (91-95%) and number (87-97%), and had a high frequency of occurrence (42-66%) in the stomachs. Similarity in prey, taxa among coastal regions was moderate to high (58-74%). Cluster analysis and ordination techniques grouped the stomach contents from each region by capture period, habitat, and 50 mm striped bass length interval. The stomach contents of bass <675 mm total length (TL) collected during August-September from estuaries and rocky shoreline habitats in the North Shore and Cape Cod Bay regions had a higher average percentage of menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) by weight than found in similar-sized bass collected during June-July from the same habitats. Also, in the North Shore area, striped bass <675 mm TL sampled in rocky shorelines contained a higher average percentage of Cancer irroratus by weight than similar-sized bass taken in estuaries. Bass >675 mm TL in rocky habitats consumed more Homarus americanus than smaller bass residing in this same habitat. The size distribution of the dominant fishes and crabs (Ammodytes sp., B. tyrannus, Cancer irroratus, and Carcinus maenus) consumed by striped bass was related to bass body size. Benthic prey were found to be a major component of the diet of striped bass in Massachusetts coastal waters.

Nelson, G. A., B. C. Chase, and J. Stockwell. 2003. Food habits of striped bass (Morone saxatilis) in coastal water of Massachusetts. Journal of Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Science 32: 1-25. pdf format of nelson_chase_stockwell_2003.pdf

Population Consumption of Fish and Invertebrate Prey by Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis) from Coastal Waters of Northern Massachusetts, USA

Consumption by striped bass
Selected prey composition (percentage of total consumption, g) of ages 3-8 striped bass during June-July and August-September in northern Massachusetts.

Abstract: Seasonal, age-class, and population-level changes in diet and consumption demand of prey by striped bass residing in coastal waters of northern Massachusetts were investigated to determine their potential predatory impact on ecologically- and economically-important prey species. Most consumption by individual striped bass of ages 3–8 came from crustaceans and fish. More crustaceans (50–78% of total consumption) than fish were consumed during June–July, while more fish (52–88% of total consumption) than crustaceans were consumed during August–September. Rock crabs, Cancer irroratus, and American lobsters, Homarus americanus, became more important to the production of striped bass as bass aged, but Atlantic menhaden, Brevoortia tyrannus, became less important. Together, the biomass of prey consumed by all age-classes in 2000 totaled over 5,575 t. Atlantic menhaden accounted for 29% of the total biomass consumed, followed by rock crabs (18%), American lobster (11%), and Atlantic herring, Clupea harengus, (3%). On a numerical basis, striped bass consumed seasonally over 3, 1 940, and 965 times the numbers of lobsters, rock crabs, and menhaden, respectively, taken annually by regional and statewide fisheries, suggesting striped bass may exert considerable predation pressure on these prey populations.

Nelson, G. A., B. C. Chase and J. D. Stockwell. 2006. Population consumption of fish and invertebrate prey by striped bass (Morone saxatilis) from coastal waters of northern Massachusetts, USA. Journal of Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Science 36: 111-126. pdf format of nelson_chase_stockwelll_2006.pdf

Temperature Preferences of Striped Bass in Massachusetts Waters

A 30 inch bass with the implanted temperature-recording logger tag and backing tag
A 30 inch bass implanted with temperature-recording logger and backing tags

In 2005-2006, we conducted a special study to examine the temperature preferences of striped bass during their summer residence. The thermal preferences of striped bass had been described for landlocked populations, but it was unknown if such preferences exist for striped bass in the continuously changing marine environment. The questions asked were: 1) What temperatures are experienced by striped bass?; 2) To what extent does the environment influence the temperatures?; and
3) Do striped bass exhibit any temperature preferences or detectable behavioral patterns (e.g., day/night differences)? The results of the study are summarized below.

Abstract: Striped bass, Morone saxatilis, were captured and released with temperature-measuring data storage tags in Salem Sound, Massachusetts, to collect data on their thermal preferences in coastal and marine waters and to identify environmental factors that may influence temperatures experienced during their summer residence. Striped bass recaptured during summer of 2006 (21 of 151 releases) experienced a wide range of temperatures (6.5–28.0 °C) while at-large for 1–53 days. Overall mean temperature and standard deviation selected by striped bass recaptured in Salem Sound during the longest commonly-shared duration of time (3–12 July) were 17.8 and 3.57 °C, respectively. Comparison of temperature data between fish and 13 vertical arrays in Salem Sound revealed that striped bass experienced higher and more variable temperatures, and that daily changes in temperature actually experienced were unrelated to daily changes in surrounding ambient temperature. Regular cyclical changes in temperature of all striped bass and vertical arrays were identified as influences of the local tide, which contributed about a 2 °C change in temperature, on average, over the complete cycle. Most striped bass appeared to limit their activities to depths shallower than the lower limit of the thermocline, above which temperatures generally exceed 9.0 °C in Salem Sound. Therefore, it is likely that the vertical distribution of striped bass is restricted by the low temperatures below this depth. An implication of this finding is that thespatial distribution of striped bass may be defined coarsely by knowledge of the distribution of temperature
in coastal areas.

Nelson, G. A., M. P. Armstrong, J. Stritzel-Thomson and K. D. Friedland. 2010. Thermal habitat of striped bass (Morone saxatilis) in coastal waters of northern Massachusetts, USA, during summer. Fisheries Oceanography 19: 370-381. This is a link to the abstract, please contact Gary Nelson for a copy of the paper.

Coastal and Seasonal Movements of Striped Bass

Standard tagging (see Tagging Studies, above) is not useful for examining fine-scale coastal and seasonal movements.  From 2008-2012,  striped bass movements, both inshore-offshore and coast-wide, were investigated by using passive acoustic telemetry.

Movements of Striped Bass between the Exclusive Economic Zone and Massachusetts State Waters

Movement of striped bass
Timing and locations of all acoustic detections of tagged striped bass at receivers deployed in the primary array and at Atlantic Cooperative Telemetry Network receivers (sites from north to south are presented top to bottom).

Abstract: In recent years, commercial and recreational fishermen have reported large aggregations of adult striped bass, Morone saxatilis, occurring occurring in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) adjacent to Massachusetts state waters. Directed fishing for striped bass within the EEZ has been prohibited since 1990, and there is overwhelming public perception that adult striped bass remain as seasonal residents of the EEZ and do not enter state waters, where they would become available to anglers. Passive acoustic telemetry was utilized to examine the extent to which adult striped bass move between the EEZ and Massachusetts state waters and to assess the relative conservation benefit provided by the EEZ fishery closure. From 2008 to 2011, 125 adult striped bass (68–110 cm TL) were tagged with acoustic transmitters on Stellwagen Bank within the EEZ and were monitored with an extensive array of fixed acoustic receivers deployed within Massachusetts state waters. Of these tagged individuals, 119 (95%) were detected for 1–56 days within state waters during a given year, and 96 (77%) were detected seasonally for up to 2 years after tagging. Sixty-five (55%) fish moved into state waters within 30 days after tagging (during July and August) and became accessible to the Massachusetts commercial fishery. The results of this study provide definitive evidence that a majority of the adult Striped Bass encountered annually on Stellwagen Bank (i.e., in the EEZ) exhibit movement into Massachusetts state waters as part of their normal migratory and feeding behaviors. If future research in other areas off the northeast U.S. coast likewise documents routine movements between federal and state waters, fishery managers will need to re-evaluate the efficacy of the EEZ closure as a tool for reducing fishing mortality.

Kneebone, J., W. S. Hoffman, M. J. Dean and M. P. Armstrong. 2014. Movements of striped bass between the Exclusive Economic Zone and Massachusetts state waters. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 34:524–534. This is a link to the abstract, please contact Bill Hoffman for a copy of the paper.

Movement Patterns and Stock Composition of Adult Striped Bass Tagged in Massachusetts Coastal Waters

The coastal migratory stock of striped bass, Morone saxatilis, has supported fisheries off the Massachusetts (MA) coast for centuries. However, despite this historical importance, limited information is available regarding striped bass seasonal movement patterns or migratory pathways within MA coastal waters and beyond. Using passive acoustic telemetry, we evaluated the seasonal residency, coastal migration, and stock composition of 159 adult striped bass (65–110 cm TL) by using a network of fixed acoustic receivers deployed from 2008 to 2012 in MA coastal waters and along the U.S. East Coast as part of the Atlantic Cooperative Telemetry (ACT) Network. Seasonal monitoring of tagged individuals indicated that adult striped bass were present in MA coastal waters north of Cape Cod annually during May–November, moving into and out of the region via the Cape Cod Canal and along the east side of Cape Cod. Of the 159 tagged individuals, 125 (79%) were detected outside of MA coastal waters by the ACT Network and were observed to make seasonal migrations along the coast to overwintering areas of the mid-Atlantic and major spawning areas (Chesapeake Bay, Delaware River, and Hudson River). Numerous tagged individuals exhibited inter-annual fidelity to summer foraging habitat in MA coastal waters, returning to the region for up to 2 years after tagging. Detection of tagged individuals in known spawning areas revealed that Striped Bass from each major stock were present within MA coastal waters during the summer months, with the Chesapeake Bay stock appearing to be the largest contributor to the population from 2008 to 2010. Collectively, these observations suggest that the seasonal population of adult Striped Bass in MA coastal waters has a diversity of origins, demonstrating the importance of the health of each spawning component to the MA seasonal fishery.

Kneebone, J., W. S. Hoffman,M. J. Dean, D. A. Fox and M. P. Armstrong. 2014. Movement patterns and stock composition of adult striped bass tagged in Massachusetts coastal waters. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 143:1115–1129. pdf format of Contribution 45 Abstract
This is a link to the abstract, please contact Bill Hoffman for a copy of the paper.

Current striped bass tagging project pdf format of 2015 Striped Bass Tagging Project
file size 8MB