Blogs > Ecology > Supporting the striped bass population requires reducing mortality rates and growing the forage fish base

Supporting the striped bass population requires reducing mortality rates and growing the forage fish base


Image courtesy Department of Environmental Conservation
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The current mortality rates in the recreational fishery for striped bass are unsustainable, and pose a threat to the Hudson River spawning stock. In December of 2023, Riverkeeper submitted comments to the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) pertaining to a Draft Addendum to the Atlantic Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan. In our comments, we encouraged the ASMFC to select “Option B” for both the recreational and commercial fisheries, because this plan represented the most egalitarian approach. Under Option B, cuts in daily bag limits and changes in slot limits will be spread evenly across the spectrum of fishing stakeholders. The ASMFC agreed with us, and so did the overwhelming majority of commenters, which also favored Option B. Option B as ratified by the ASMFC is expected to reduce mortality rates and achieve mandated benchmarks of striped bass populations in the shortest time period, without discrimination between private and for-hire fishermen in regards to bag limits and slot sizes.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

To be sure, stricter measures are necessary to ensure growth, vitality, stability, and resiliency in striped bass populations, which are contracting and simultaneously experiencing expanded fishing pressure. Previous management measures and best practices employed by anglers to improve survivability when releasing fish have been ineffective in curtailing mortality as fishing pressure surged. Data from the ASMFC reveals that recreational mortality increased by 32 percent in 2022 from the previous year. The increased mortality rates on declining populations of striped bass restricts stock rebuilding goals and reduces the likelihood of achieving threshold levels of the spawning stock biomass as mandated by ASMFC.

In our letter to the ASMFC, we stressed that recovery of the Hudson’s striped bass population is contingent upon reduced mortality rates within the stocks and a proportional growth of the forage fish base that striped bass need to support themselves. As the East Coast’s premier saltwater gamefish, any rebound in striped bass populations is also dependent upon a balanced ecosystem approach to fisheries management that ensures sufficient and thriving populations of forage fish remain in the water prior to the assignment of human quotas. While reducing mortality rates on the spawning stock biomass of striped bass is critical to promote population growth, any resurgence in stripers must be accompanied by proportionate increases in forage fishes, as a rising biomass cannot thrive in a vacuum.

Forage fishes form the critical foundation of the aquatic food-web, and sustain not only adult and juvenile striped bass, but also a diverse predator assemblage both within the river and within our coastal marine ecosystems. Accordingly, forage fishes must flourish in robust numbers to support environmental fluctuation as well as the striped bass spawning stock and their young-of-year juveniles that mature within the Hudson River. Striped bass, other predatory gamefish, and highly charismatic creatures such as dolphins and whales frequent our coastal marine waters seeking to exploit rebounding and bountiful populations of menhaden, their primary prey. Within the Hudson’s reaches, fast-growing striped bass juveniles rely on an abundance of juvenile river herring, American shad, and American eels to support their maturation process as they venture toward the ocean.

Sadly, the entire suite of the Hudson’s most iconic species are in long-term decline. In 2023, striped bass experienced their worst spawning season since 1995. Additionally, river herring, American shad, American eels, Atlantic sturgeon, shortnose sturgeon, and tomcod all use the Hudson River or its tributaries to renew their population in freshwater, but are all currently experiencing depleted populations at historically low levels. At Riverkeeper, we are working to reverse these trends and remove obsolete dams to restore ancestral and critical habitat for river herring, American shad, American eels, and a host of other native fishes that require freshwater or connection to the Hudson’s tributaries as all or part of their lifecycle. Recent research shows that 80 percent of all river herring spawning habitat lies upstream of obsolete dams. For shad, the percentages are not much better. American shad returning to the Hudson are fast declining and have failed recruitment in 22 of the past 23 years, despite a moratorium on fishing within the river. To counter these trends and truly benefit striped bass, we urgently need to restore freshwater habitat for the suite of migratory forage species and reduce bycatch in the ocean for river herring, American shad, and Atlantic sturgeon.

Thus, when we envision a burgeoning population of striped bass, we also envision balanced, healthy ecosystems teeming with life that sustains the full suite of migratory fishes whose provenance is the Hudson River.


Riverkeeper protects and restores the Hudson River, and safeguards drinking water supplies through community partnerships, science, and law. Our core programs improve water quality, restore habitat for an abundance of life, and address the impact of climate change on our waterways. Founded in 1966 as the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association, Riverkeeper became the model for more than 320 Waterkeeper organizations around the world and helped establish globally-recognized standards for waterway and watershed protection. We continue to work toward the goal of a swimmable, fishable, and drinkable Hudson River for all. Learn more, get updates, and support our work by visiting

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