Frequently asked questions about striped bass

Fisheries and Oceans Canada would like to address some misconceptions about striped bass. While striped bass are now present in greater numbers in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence just a few years ago, they were very scarce and their future appeared uncertain. All fisheries were closed to help the struggling species and this worked well. In recent years, striped bass numbers increased and the extraordinary recovery is a nothing short of a success. The recovery of this population is largely due to management and fisheries closures that were put in place in 1996 and 2000 to reduce the main threats to the recovery of striped bass.

The recovery of striped bass in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence coincided with lower returns of Atlantic salmon. Some people have made a link between the two occurrences and blame striped bass for low Atlantic salmon returns. This opinion does not take into account that Atlantic salmon were experiencing the same difficulties across Eastern Canada, in places where there are no striped bass present. Also, it is important to note that striped bass is a native species to the region and has coexisted with Atlantic salmon for thousands of years. There is no evidence to support the view that striped bass cause low numbers of Atlantic salmon.

Recently, the Department was made aware of individuals knowingly killing striped bass in order to help the struggling salmon population. Not only is this practice ill-informed, it is also illegal. Fisheries and Oceans Canada would like to remind the public there are periods during the year when it is legal to keep one striped bass. Individuals caught killing a striped bass in violation of these rules will be prosecuted and could face hefty fines or a harsh sentence, depending on the gravity of the offence.

Question :

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

 

Answer :

No. This is illegal. There is absolutely no scientific information that supports the idea that removing striped bass from estuaries will help improve Atlantic salmon returns. The Department is conducting studies in order to better understand the complex relations between striped bass and other species.

As well, this opinion does not take into account that Atlantic salmon were experiencing the same difficulties elsewhere than the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, in places where there are no striped bass present. Also, it is important to note that striped bass is native to the region and have coexisted with Atlantic salmon for thousands of years.

 

Question :

With these recent increases in the number of striped bass, why are there still measures in place to protect them?

 

Answer :

In the 1990s, the population of striped bass varied from 3,000 to 5,000 spawners. Consequently, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada initially assessed the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence population as threatened in 2004.

In 2012, the Department recommended not to list striped bass under the Species at Risk Act. Instead of listing, the Department implemented additional management measures to achieve the long-term recovery of striped bass.

Following recent population increases, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada reassessed the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence striped bass population to a lower risk category called special concern in 2012. This new status was determined because the striped bass of the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence 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.

 

Question :

What do striped bass eat?

 

Answer :

Their diet is very diverse and consists of numerous saltwater and freshwater species. While striped bass occasionally eat salmon smolts, this does not appear to represent a significant part of their diet. In a three year study of striped bass stomach contents, results found only a low proportion of stomachs containing Atlantic salmon smolts. The number of smolts in those stomachs was also low and the timing corresponded with the peak migration period for the smolts.

 

Question :

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

 

Answer :

For 2015, Fisheries and Oceans Canada estimated about 301,000 striped bass spawners in the Northwest Miramichi. This is the highest level estimated since monitoring began in 1993. In the 1990s, the numbers of spawners varied between 3,000 to 5,000 fish.

The striped bass population estimate is based on the number of spawners returning to the spawning ground in the Miramichi River annually.

 

Question :

What about consultations with the public?

 

Answer :

In 2016, the Gulf Region carried out online recreational fisheries consultations for the general public on its website. Online consultations will again be undertaken in the fall 2017 and winter 2018.

 

Question :

Is striped bass native to the Miramichi River and the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence?

 

Answer :

Yes, striped bass is historically native to the Miramichi River and to southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, including the Atlantic coast from the St. Lawrence River to Louisiana. It is not an invasive species.

 

Question :

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

 

Answer :

Yes, the Northwest Miramichi River is the only known spawning location for striped bass in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. Because they are found in many other estuaries, in the 1990s, it was believed there were other spawning locations in the southern Gulf. However, scientific work undertaken in 1990 and in 2011 by Fisheries and Oceans Canada showed no evidence of successful spawning of striped bass in other rivers.

 

Question :

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

 

Answer :

Although salmon and striped bass coexist in the same waters, they tend to prefer different fish habitats and only overlap during limited time-periods (such as late May and early June when striped bass spawn at the head of tide and salmon smolt are migrating downstream to the ocean).

 

Question :

How is the striped bass fishery managed?

 

Answer :

The Department has been using an adaptive management strategy; which means 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, the Department began to gradually re-introduce fisheries on striped bass. 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.

 

Question :

Who does the Department consult for the striped bass fishery?

 

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. Advice received during these consultations is used in the decision making process.

With respect to consultation for striped bass and other recreational fisheries, the Department started using recreational advisory committees in 2012 to consult stakeholders (various groups that represent the public) and Aboriginal 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.

 

Question :

What is the meaning and purpose of the target of 31,200 striped bass spawners often mentioned?

 

Answer :

In 2006, Fisheries and Oceans proposed recovery objectives for striped bass, based on the abundance of spawners in the Northwest Miramichi. 31,200 is the number of bass where the population is considered to have recovered. Two objectives were used:

  • When the number of spawners in the Northwest Miramichi would reach 21,600 or more, for 5 out of 6 consecutive years, the stock would be considered as recovered.
  • When the number of spawners in the Northwest Miramichi would reach 31,200 or more, for 3 out of 6 consecutive years, the numbers of spawners would be considered high enough to consider the opening of a directed fishery.
 

Question :

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

 

Answer :

For 2014, 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.