Frequently asked questions about striped bass

Striped bass is a native species to the Miramichi river system. As a result of effective management and fisheries closures, its population has recovered significantly from critical low levels of the late 1990s and early 2000s. The recovery of striped bass in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence is a great success, which led to the reopening of Indigenous and recreational fisheries, bringing economic benefits to the region.

1. Question:

Where is it allowed to fish for striped bass in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence ?

 

1. Answer:

Striped bass may be fished in the inland and tidal waters of the provinces of New Brunswick (NB), Nova Scotia (NS) and Prince Edward Island (PEI) in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Map shows the Gulf Region

2. Question:

Do I need an angling license to fish striped bass?

 

2. Answer:

To fish striped bass in tidal waters, you do not need a license. However, to fish in inland waters, you will need an angling license issued by the province in which you will be fishing in. Please call or visit the provincial natural resource department for more information on angling licenses. This information can also be found in the angling book of each respective province.

3. Question:

When can I fish for striped bass?

 

3. Answer:

The season varies depending on whether you are fishing in inland waters or tidal waters. Here are the dates for the 2021 season:

  1. Tidal waters adjacent to N.B., P.E.I. and N.S. in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence: April 15 to October 31, 2021.
  2. Inland water season for rivers of the southern Gulf is from May 1 to September 15, 2021 (except in the Miramichi River system : from April 15 to October 15, 2021 and in P.E.I. inland waters : from April 15 to September 15, 2021.)

4. Question:

Is there a closed period during the fishing season?

 

4. Answer:

Yes, fishing for striped bass is permitted only during the period beginning two hours before sunrise and ending two hours after sunset.

Also, during a five (5) day period in late May-early June, a section of the Miramichi River is closed to protect striped bass during the spawning period. For more information, such as the closed season and the affected area, please consult this page: Striped bass spawning ground angling closure in the Northwest Miramichi River in 2021.

5. Question:

What is the daily bag and possession limit?

 

5. Answer:

For the 2021 recreational fishing season, recreational anglers may retain a maximum of three (3) legally sized striped bass (total length of 50 to 65 cm) per day and it will be prohibited to have more than three (3) striped bass in your possession any time from April 15 to October 31, 2021.

6. Question:

Why is the catch size 50 to 65 centimeters during the retention fishery?

 

6. Answer:

A maximum catch size of 65 centimeters has been set to protect the large spawners that produce the largest amount of eggs. A minimum catch size of 50 centimeters has been set to minimize the catch of fish that are not yet mature. Striped bass total length is measured in a straight line from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail (one of the two tips of the tail, without any particular manipulation to the tail).

7. Question:

Can I fish with natural bait?

 

7. Answer:

Yes, but there are some restrictions on this fishing method. It is mandatory to use barbless hooks when natural bait or lures are used to catch striped bass in tidal waters. This measure reduces the risk of injury to released fish. However, it is recommended to use barbless non-offset circle hooks.

8. Question:

What do striped bass eat?

8. Answer:

Striped bass feed opportunistically on a wide variety of plankton, insects, fish, and crustaceans. The size of the prey increases as striped bass grow, starting with zooplankton and larval fish, then progressing to small fish, shrimp and other crustaceans as the bass develop. Striped bass are generalist predators and will eat available prey in proportion to its availability in the environment.

Recent studies on the predator-prey interaction between native Striped bass and Atlantic salmon (smolts) in the Miramichi River have provided direct and indirect evidence that Striped bass consume variable numbers of emigrating salmon smolts annually. It is not clear whether this natural predator-prey dynamic is limiting the number of returning adult salmon to the Miramichi river as the survival of smolts in the ocean environment continues to be very low across the species range.

9. Question:

Is striped bass an invasive species to the Miramichi River and the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence?

 

9. Answer:

No, striped bass are historically native to the Miramichi River and to the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. The species has always spanned the Atlantic coast from the St. Lawrence River to Louisiana.

10. Question:

Some people think that the best way to help Atlantic salmon is to kill as many striped bass as possible. Can this help the recovery of salmon?

 

10. Answer:

No. Recent studies on the predator-prey interaction between native striped bass and Atlantic salmon (smolts) in the Miramichi River do not provide enough evidence to predict that reducing the size of the striped bass population would lead to the recovery of salmon. While the survival of smolts in the ocean environment continues to be very low across the species range, an array of other factors than predation have been identified as potential and real threats to salmon across its range (e.g. climate change impacts on marine and freshwater temperature, primary productivity, habitat degradation, commercial harvesting by other nations of mixed stocks in the high seas, etc.). In addition, the striped bass fishery is regulated and limited for conservation purposes. It is otherwise illegal to kill or harm striped bass.

At the end of the last ice age, 19 freshwater and nine diadromous fish species, including Atlantic salmon and striped bass, colonized the Maritime Provinces’ rivers and have co-evolved since then. A complex predator-prey relationship has developed and exists between striped bass and Atlantic salmon – and amongst other species – however, that relationship is not fully understood and is limited to estuaries where striped bass and juvenile Atlantic salmon are both present during a short period in the spring.

In general, returns of adult Atlantic salmon follow similar declining abundance patterns across the entire species’ range – a range in which striped bass are not present in the majority of salmon rivers. Given that numbers of salmon returning to their natal rivers follow the same declining patterns in presence or absence of striped bass reinforces that striped bass predation is not the determining factor in the abundance of adult Atlantic salmon returning to home water.

11. Question:

Is there only one spawning location in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence?

 

11. Answer:

Yes. While striped bass eggs and larvae have been observed in other places in the past, to this day, no study has been able to detect juvenile fish coming from rivers other than the Northwest Miramichi.  Therefore, even though striped bass can be seen at times in multiple estuaries of the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Northwest Miramichi River is the only location with successful spawning on a regular basis in the southern Gulf. Conditions in the Miramichi estuary are favourable to larvae survival and for allowing complete metamorphosis to juvenile fish before the onset of winter.

12. Question:

Are Atlantic salmon and striped bass found in the same waters?

 

12. Answer:

Atlantic salmon and striped bass have always coexisted in the same waters, but they tend to prefer different habitats and generally overlap only during limited time-periods (such as late May and early June when striped bass spawn at the head of tide and salmon smolts are migrating downstream to the ocean).

13. Question:

How is the striped bass fishery managed?

 

13. Answer:

The Department has been using an adaptive management strategy; which means that when the stock was very low (3,000 to 5,000 fish), the Department scaled back on the fishing effort, but more recently, as it recovered, DFO gradually re-introduced the striped bass fishery. The goal of this adaptive management strategy is to maintain the population at levels that would not be considered at risk while providing for a sustainable fishery.

14. Question:

Who does the Department consult regarding the striped bass fishery?

 

14. Answer:

The Department follows a rigorous decision-making process, which incorporates science advice and thorough consultations with recreational fishing groups in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, before establishing a fisheries management plan. The Department started using recreational advisory committees in 2012, to consult stakeholders (various groups that represent the anglers) and Indigenous organizations. These have been held throughout the Gulf Region in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia. These committees are open to the public, but only members from legally-formed organizations sit at the table.

15. Question:

What about consultations with the public?

 

15. Answer:

Every year at the end of the fishing season, the Gulf Region carries out online recreational fisheries consultations for the general public on its website.

16. Question:

What is the population of striped bass? How is it measured?

 

16. Answer:

Because the number of striped bass spawners has not been updated for 2020 due to fieldwork restrictions associated with COVID-19 public health guidelines, the most recent indicators are those available up to 2019. The Department estimated 333,000 Striped Bass spawners in the Northwest Miramichi River in 2019. In 2018, the population was estimated at 314,000. The estimate is derived from catches of striped bass in the gaspereau fishery in the Northwest Miramichi River and is also informed by mark-recapture tagging and acoustic telemetry. For more details, please consult the Update of spawner abundance and biological characteristics of Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis) in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence to 2019.

17. Question:

Why did the striped bass population estimate go from 994,000 in 2017 to 333,000 in 2018?

 

17. Answer:

The reduced abundance of striped bass spawners in 2018 relative to 2017 may be explained in part by losses experienced by striped bass that left their historic range in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence and migrated to the Quebec North shore and to Southern Labrador in the summer of 2017. Fishing mortality (including bycatch in commercial fisheries) was reported from these areas. These striped bass apparently did not migrate south as winter came, but rather, they overwintered in northern areas where they had never previously been observed.

The striped bass that remained in southern Labrador for the 2017/18 winter period appear to have experienced significant mortality as numerous striped bass carcasses were observed in shallow areas of rivers and estuaries when the ice began to melt in the spring. In the Gaspé region, mortalities of striped bass in the winter and spring had previously been reported in a number of estuaries and barachois; however, during the winter and spring of 2017-2018, exceptional observations of mortalities were reported in areas extending east to the Saguenay and up to the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. While the exact cause of these mortality events is unknown, it is assumed that the habitat of these northern overwintering locations was not appropriate and/or that the winter environmental conditions were beyond the limits of the species’ overwintering physiological tolerances.

The combined fishing and natural mortality on the portion of the striped bass population that migrated outside of the species’ historically-observed range in 2017 is unknown but believed to be significant. Whether this mortality fully accounts for the reduction in spawner abundance estimates between 2017 and 2018 is unknown given that angling mortality was also assumed to be significant in the species’ traditional range in 2017.

There were no reports of striped bass migration outside of the historic range of the species in 2018. The reason for the extended summer migration in 2017 remains unknown.

18. Question:

With bass numbers in the hundreds of thousands, why are there still measures in place to protect it?

 

18. Answer:

In the 1990s, the abundant population of striped bass decreased to approximately 3,000 to 5,000 spawners. Consequently, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) initially assessed the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence (sGSL) population as threatened in 2004. In 2012, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) recommended not listing striped bass under the Species at Risk Act. Instead of recommendaing to list the species, the Department implemented additional management measures to achieve the long-term recovery of striped bass. Following recent population increases, COSEWIC reassessed the sGSL striped bass population to a lower risk category, called "special concern", in 2012. This new status was determined because the striped bass in the sGSL continues to depend on a single spawning location and is susceptible to high rates of fishing-related mortality. In order to avoid the relapse of the striped bass population to what it was in the 1990s, the Department implemented management measures to help with the long-term recovery of the species and enable the sustainability of the striped bass fishery.

19. Question:

Why are there two different management objectives for the striped bass spawner population?

 

19. Answer:

In 2006, DFO proposed recovery objectives for striped bass, based on the abundance of spawners in the Northwest Miramichi River. The minimum number of bass where the population can start to be progressively harvested through directed fishery is 31,200. Two objectives were used:

When the number of spawners in the Northwest Miramichi River would reach 21,600 or more, for five out of six consecutive years, the stock would be considered as recovered.

When the number of spawners in the Northwest Miramichi River would reach 31,200 or more, for three out of six consecutive years, the numbers of spawners would be considered high enough to contemplate the progressive opening of a directed fishery.