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Counting the Fish in the Bay

Feeder fish are faring well, not so much for baitfish

      This year’s Juvenile Striped Bass Survey (Young-of-Year) looks good. Overall, 33,000 fish of 12 species were netted in the extensive survey. The 1,741 stripers among them were a welcome relief, as six of the last 10 spawns have been below average for our favorite sport and eating fish.
      The Juvenile Striped Bass Survey has been conducted since 1954 by Maryland Department of Natural Resources from some 22 fixed sites throughout Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake. Sites include the head of the Bay and the Potomac, Nanticoke and Choptank rivers. Samples are taken with a 104-foot seine net on two separate hauls 30 minutes apart. The counts are repeated three times, in July, August and September. Fish caught are separated by species and age, counted and recorded.
      The numbers — above the study’s 64-year average — indicate positive population growth. The per-haul seine count was 13.2 rockfish; the long-term average is 11.7 fish. See for yourself:
      This year’s above-average numbers for the yearling rockfish is also welcome news because our spring trophy rockfish season was poor. The big migratory female stripers were obviously around for the spawn, but anglers apparently couldn’t find them.
     White perch numbers were much more improved. The count of approximately 18.0 almost tripled each of the previous two years’ counts. Better numbers were scored in the upper Bay area and in the Nanticoke. 
     Yellow perch also had a banner reproductive year, with a count at least five times that of the previous two years, due to cold rainy weather January through March, I’m guessing. 
     Menhaden, once the overwhelming forage species for Bay rockfish, remained very lackluster. Their stagnation is likely the result of the continued wholesale harvest at the mouth of the Chesapeake by Omega Protein Corporation. Efforts to restrict the harvest have been slow. The omega-3 fish oils touted by the latest (and dubious) health fads are supplied almost exclusively by our Atlantic menhaden and Omega Protein.
      The other major rockfish forage species, Bay anchovies and silverside minnows, had poor to average reproduction. Norfolk spot numbers were again very low. That’s no surprise. Spot and croaker are exceedingly cyclic migratory fish that often experience wide variations in their populations. They spawn well offshore and only arrive in our Bay waters after long and perilous journeys.
      All of this information indicates that recreational angling on the Chesapeake should be positive. Should is the key word. You never know how seasons will unfold. We’ve had great years when the predictions were for poor and poor years when all indications were that they should have been better.
      As we wait to see how this year ends and the next develops, clean up your gear and vote for politicians who promise to protect the Chesapeake and its critters.
Fish Finder
     The fall rockfish bite is excellent — if you’re willing to get out on the water. The fish are hungry and on the feed and can usually be found any place that concentrates the movement of the baitfish, usually around the mouths of the tributaries. Trollers are dragging small spoons, bucktails and soft plastics; jig anglers are using Assassins, BKDs, and medium sized metal. The top-water bite remains active early and late in the day — and anytime rockfish discover concentrated schools of baitfish moving along the surface. 
Hunting Seasons
Deer, antlerless, muzzle loader, thru Oct. 27
Deer, antlered and antlerless, archery, thru Nov 23
Snow geese, limit 25, thru Nov. 23 
Sea ducks, limit 5, Nov. 3-Jan. 11 
Rabbit, limit 4, Nov. 3-Feb. 28
Ducks, limit 6, Nov. 10-23
Migratory Canada geese, limit 2, Nov. 17-23
Squirrel, limit 6, thru Feb. 28