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Local Summer Fisheries – Striped Bass

Massachusetts has cut daily limits and reduced fishing days for striped bass this year. (Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Madi Gamble is the Ocean Conservation intern this summer at CLF.  She grew up fishing in Marblehead, MA and is a rising senior at Dartmouth College, where she studies biology and environmental science.

Growing up on the New England coast, summer meant one thing: time to go fishing.  As a girl, I’d accompany my dad, uncles and grandfathers to their favorite fishing spots from June through September.  We’d cast into the surf from rocky coastlines, throw a line in from the banks of estuaries and rivers, or fish the coastal waters from our boat.  The fish we caught would become dinner that night, cleaned and cooked to perfection by the fisherman or his wife.  In the spirit of preserving these experiences and the fish that made them possible, I’ll be writing a series of posts on local summer fisheries in the Gulf of Maine.  The series will focus on a different fishery each week.  Each post will include information on each fish’s biology and behavior, management history, and current stock status, along with a recipe or two.  This first post will focus on striped bass.

Among the multiple migratory fish species that visit New England’s coastal waters in the summer months, striped bass are a favorite.  Native to the East Coast, they arrive in the Gulf of Maine from their mid-Atlantic wintering grounds in the spring and stay until October.  Because they stay close to the shoreline, stripers are usually caught in bays, river mouths, and estuaries and can easily be caught from shore. Striped bass are generalist, carnivorous predators, feeding on anything from smaller fish to crustaceans and mollusks.  They tend to feed most actively at dawn and dusk, but can be more nocturnal in the middle of the summer.

Striped bass abundance from 1980-2010 (Photo Credit: Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries)

While striped bass population numbers fluctuate naturally depending on the success of each year’s spawning events and juvenile class, the stock went through a period of serious decline in the early 1980s.  According to the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game, commercial landings of striped bass fell from 14 million pounds to just 3.7 million pounds between 1973 and 1984.  Scientists and regulators pointed at overfishing and pollution in spawning areas as the main factors contributing to this population decline.  In response, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) amended its management plan in 1981 so that the entire stock would be managed as a single unit (it had previously been managed individually by each state).  The new management plan recommended a 38-inch length minimum and limited fishing effort during the spawning season. Further amendments limited the number of fish that could be caught per boat and per day and otherwise generally reduced levels of commercial fishing for striped bass.  These protective measures led to the stock’s recovery in the early 1990s, and the plan has since been further amended to loosen restrictions on fish size and catch limits.

This summer, the commercial season opens July 12 and closes when the annual quota of 1,057,783 pounds is reached.  Commercial fishermen may only catch striped bass on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays.  The commercial size limit prohibits keeping any striped bass shorter than 34 inches, and restricts catches to 30 fish per boat Tuesday-Thursday and five fish per boat on Sunday.  The recreational season is year-round, with a size limit of 28 inches and a possession limit of two striped bass per person per day.

Recipe:  Baked Striped Bass with Hollandaise (this one’s from my grandmother’s kitchen)

For freshly caught striper, the first key “ingredient” is proper cleaning immediately after the catch. After gutting, fillet the fish, leaving the skin either on or off. Store the fish on ice until ready to bake.  It tastes best if cooked the day it is caught.

– Preheat the oven to 400°F.

– Place the fillet skin down in an oiled or buttered baking dish just large enough to hold it. Lightly salt & pepper the fillet and dot with butter.

– Bake for about 15-20 minutes, depending on how thick the fillet is. The fish is done when it will “flake” when gently pried with a fork.

– While the fish is cooking, make hollandaise sauce:

1 stick unsalted butter (1/4 lb.)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons water

3 egg yolks

Salt to taste, ~ ¼ teaspoon

An ice cube, set aside nearby in case of curdling

Melt butter over low heat. Add lemon juice and water. When the fish is almost done, add egg yolks to the butter mixture. Stir with a wire whisk over low – medium heat until mixture just starts to thicken. If you heat the sauce too long and you see your hollandaise curdling, immediately remove from heat and add an ice cube. Stir vigorously. (The sauce may be a bit thinner, but this should remove the curdle.) Season to taste with salt and any chopped herbs you may like to add (e.g. parsley, chives).

– Cut fillet into serving-sized pieces, leaving any skin behind in the baking pan, and serve with hollandaise on the side.


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