|Striped bass are the most important species of fish for commercial and recreational fishing in the Chesapeake Bay. Historically they have been a vital resource since colonial times. In 1634 William Wood wrote:
"The Basse is one of the best fishes in the countrey, . . . The way to catch them is with hooke and line: the fisherman taking a great cod-line, to which he fastneth a peece of lobster, and throwes it into the sea, the fish biting at it he pulls her to him, and knockes her on the head with a sticke . . . the English at the top of an high water do crossee the creekes with long seanes of Basse netts, which stop in the fish: and the water ebbing from them they are left on the dry ground, sometimes two or three thousand at a set . . ."
Striped bass as well as codfish were among the first resources protected by conservation measures. In 1639, the Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a law prohibiting the sale of either fish to be used as fertilizer.
In 1670, an act of the Plymouth Colony required that all income from striped bass, mackerel, and herring to be used for a free school. The school financed from these fisheries off of Cape Cod was the first public school in the thirteen colonies. Today the fish holds just as important role as it did then and has been given a place of honor on the Great Seal of Maryland.
Striped bass are the largest species of the Pecichthyidae family and can be found along the Atlantic Coast from northern Florida to the maritime provinces of Canada. Spawning however takes place almost entirely in the Hudson River and the Chesapeake Bay. They are voracious piscivores and grow rapidly as a result. In the Chesapeake Bay, historically the diet of young striped bass, less than 18" in length (under 4 years), mostly includes bay anchovy, menhaden, shrimp, worms, blue crab, spot and croaker. Food habit studies show that young menhaden less than 6" in length are crucial to the diet of small striped bass less than 18" in length, during the summer, fall and winter. Both young (less than 6") and sub-adult (6"-12") menhaden are crucial to the diet of large resident Striped Bass greater than 18" in length, from fall through spring. Migratory striped bass over 28" in length (approx. 80% females) prey on menhaden of all sizes while in the Chesapeake Bay, from late fall through spring.
Both sexes of young striped bass live and feed within the Chesapeake Bay system; however, prior to reaching age 4 (about 16"), most of the females migrate to coastal waters. More than 85% of striped bass (16"-18") that remain in the Chesapeake Bay are males and are at the size where young menhaden (less than 6") become their primary prey. From fall through spring, just prior to reaching age 4, these 3 year olds feed heavily on young menhaden (less than 6") and accumulate body fat. This fat is assimilated during the following summer and early fall, when feeding activity by age 4+ striped bass is greatly reduced. Resident striped bass age 4+ prey heavily on menhaden from fall through spring, but become opportunistic predators during summer and early fall, when Bay water temperatures are relatively high, and feeding activity is low.