Hudson River Striped Bass 101

Smile, oh big-mouthed Hudson River tribe member. 

Images

Bob Creeden recently made a detailed post about the Hudson River striper stock on the Stripers Online Fly Fishing forum. I found it so informative that I asked Bob for permission to share it with my readers. He graciously agreed (thanks, RJ). And here it is:

The Hudson River filling in was done mostly in the 19th Century. The Railroad did 80% of it. Especially on the eastern shore between Manhattan and Albany. It was polluted in the 19th and early 20th Century. And when the bass crashed in the mid 1980s it included the Hudson River strain.

There have been many changes in the past 45 years in the Hudson River and the 25,000 square Mile watershed that feeds it.

Today, the Hudson is clean. Clean enough to be recognized as a Class “A” swimming water from Albany to the NY City Line. The Hudson River striped bass stock was the quickest to recover from the over fishing of the 60s, 70s and early 80s. It is the best environment for healthy striped bass production. The 100 miles of freshwater tidal from Cornwall, NY (below Newburgh) to the first barrier dam North of Troy, NY, is consistently productive with no lack of water and no high water temperatures like the Chesapeake Bay Estuary has been experiencing for the past 20 years.

I was born on the banks of the Hudson. (Manhattan – Washington Heights) Grew up and maintained a boat on the Hudson from the age of 12 (docked a 1/4 mile up the Croton River at Crotonville) and lived most of my adult life on or near the Hudson in the Catskill Creek to Kinderhook Creek portion above the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. When I got out of the Marines in the 1960s, the upper Hudson from Catskill to Troy, NY was a dead sewer of a river. Since the mid 1960s, thanks to Nelson Rockefeller’s Clean Waters Act that had water filtration plants built in every village, town and city down the NY City line, the river is vibrant and alive. A birthing place and nursery for hundreds of fresh and saltwater species. I was appointed to the Hudson River Estuary Management Advisory Committee (HREMAC) during Cuomo’s administration and sat on it through two other Governor’s terms. George Pataki’s Environmental Bond Issue, voted by the majority of New York residents, built on the foundation supplied by the Clean Waters Act. It has gotten better and better from those great environmental steps.

We still have landings of 50 to 70 pound striped bass and a solid female contingent of 8+-year-old female striped bass producing a decent level of Young of the Year striped bass. Healthy 30 to 40 pound Hudson River DNA striped bass are counted, tagged and released every spring while they hang out in the freshwater tidal portion of the river. The spawning creates each year class, that are counted in September in that same clean freshwater tidal area of 100 miles as they come out of the bays and creeks along with YOY American Shad and YOY Blueback and Alewife Herring. The daily bag length should be reduced to a single fish and the length set at 35 inches. This would at least allow the females to have two full years of egg production with out being culled from the biomass before they can contribute to the stability of their species.

Another Hudson Riverling. Hard to imagine she was once smaller than a silverside.

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The Hudson River DNA Tribe is the second largest producer of migratory striped bass on the East Coast. The Chesapeake Bay DNA Tribe produces 60% to 70% of all YOY counted annually in September. The Delaware River DNA Tribe is the smallest producer, due to the shortness of its spawning range and its reliance on a strong spring run off of snow pack and spring rains to keep the salinity of Delaware Bay from Chester, PA to the C&D Canal just below New Castle. 2011-12, “The winter that wasn’t” failed to produce enough freshwater to allow for a minimal spawning effort. I’m not sure the runoff this past spring was much better.

The problems caused by human population explosions along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay’s western shoreline and the Chicken Broiler production of a billion chickens annually for meat consumption down the length of the Eastern Shore in DE, MD & VA has loaded the bay with a choking amount of nitrate’s and potassium that create algae blooms that have cut off the cool deep water refuges needed by juvenile striped bass. They are genetically programmed to spend almost three years in the Bay and its tributaries before migrating out into the clean and cold Atlantic. It is estimate that 70% of the YOY counted in the Chesapeake Bay the September after they are hatched will die before they are old enough to reproduce. That is were a huge loss is occurring. Millions of immature Chesapeake Bay striped bass are dying because they cannot seek the cool depths and are forced into the stress of living in 90 to 95 degree water in the summer months. These conditions are destroying the productivity of the Chesapeake Bay Striped Bass Tribe.

A fully mature female striped bass is 8 years old. She is between 31 and 32 inches and weighs 15 to 16.7 pounds when full of eggs. The Hudson River 8+ Female count is strong and steady. No great fluxuations over the past 15 to 17 years. I’d really like to see what the Female age 8+ is doing in DE, MD and VA. In 2011 VA or MD declared the greatest number of YOY striped bass in 50 years had been produced. in 2012 it declared it had the worst YOY count ever for striped bass.

We folks in NJ, CT, RI, MA, NH & ME benefit from the migration of striped bass from the Chesapeake Bay every spring, summer and fall. I believe the anglers in the areas north of Cape Cod in MA, NH and ME have seen a steady decline in the number of mature striped bass they are seeing in their waters. Most of the striped bass south of the Cape Cod beaches are Hudson River fish with a little bit of Delaware River SB mixed in. The Hudson River Tribe’s migration after spawning goes south to Cape May and North to the southern beaches of Cape Cod. We all should pay a little more attention to what is happening to the Chesapeake Bay Striped Bass tribe.

Striped bass, like shad and river herring, need freshwater to spawn in. The river herring tribes and the shad come out of the summer nurseries they grow in between May and September and they come down the fresh water rivers and make their way to the ocean.

The Hudson River YOY move down the river and travel to the rivers and bays that are salty. They move into the Hackensack, Passaic, Raritan, Shrewsbury, Navesink and Shark rivers of NJ. They make their way up the East River and out into Flushing Bay and the western end of LI Sound. From there they invest in all of the salty ends of the south flowing CT, RI and MA River. Plus the north and south flowing rivers and bays of Long Island, NY. They will spend the next two seasons growing and sharpening their predatory skills in those waters. When they reach their 3rd Spring (in March or April) they begin to migrate to the Atlantic Ocean and spend the next 5 or 6 years maturing. Then they return to the Hudson River starting in March of their 7th or 8th year. Some 7 year old females will produce eggs and spawn that spring. Others will produce eggs and fail to spawn at age 7. Those green eggs will be absorbed back into the flesh of the 7-year-old female as protein. A baby striped bass will hatch and the outer shell of its egg will remain attached to the tiny, perfect striped bass baby. That tiny fish will absorb the shell protein into its body and when that process is completed it will begin to prey on food too small for us to see. As it grows and needs more protein, it will begin targeting larger and large prey. The biologists believe that immature female striped bass use the egg absorption process they used as tiny YOY.

5 comments on “Hudson River Striped Bass 101

  1. metiefly says:

    Brilliant article – thanks for sharing it Currentseams!

  2. ronfish6918 says:

    Great article, however I still think a slot limit would work instead of harvesting only the breeding stock.

  3. Chris Carland says:

    Can you folks give me the history of the Kate McLaren fly. I am in the McLaren family and had a great aunt Kate. It would be cool if I could prove it was named after her. Any help you could give me would be appreciated.

    Sent from my iPod

  4. Gin Clear says:

    Reblogged this on Gin Clear and commented:
    Great write-up and post, Steve! Thanks for pointing me to it.

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