New striped bass stocking effort aims to restore population – OBX Today

New striped bass stocking effort aims to restore population - OBX Today
Striped bass, also known as rock fish, are a popular catch in local waters from mid-fall to early spring. [photo courtesy Island Free Press]

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) and the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF) have partnered on a three-year stocking effort to aid in restoring Striped Bass populations in the Roanoke River and Albemarle Sound.

Restoration efforts began in May with the release of 1.5 million fry (2- to 4-days-old) into the Roanoke River at Jamesville. An additional 650,000 fingerlings (2 inches in length) were released in late June into Albemarle Sound near the town of Edenton. The Striped Bass are produced at NCWRC’s Watha State Fish Hatchery in Pender County.

“The objective of the stocking effort is to supplement the natural recruitment that has been lacking over the last several years,” said Chris Smith, a district fisheries biologist at NCWRC. “The intent is for these fish to ultimately contribute to the Roanoke River spawning population naturally when they reach age 3 and 4.”

Due to overfishing and recent declines in natural spawning success on the Roanoke River, the Striped Bass population in Albemarle Sound has become depleted.

NCWRC and NCDMF share management of this migratory population and have developed a three-year stocking strategy to bolster the stock. The N.C. Marine & Estuary Foundation has provided $10,000 in funding to each of the two state agencies to support this effort. The non-profit group is a coalition of North Carolina anglers, business leaders, and concerned citizens who provide resources to support the state’s coast through funding research and educational projects.

“The N.C. Marine & Estuary Foundation is committed to building world-class fisheries and thriving coastal economies,” said Chad Thomas, executive director of the non-profit foundation. “We are excited to help fund the Striped Bass hatchery production and the follow-up evaluation of stocking success using genetic marking techniques. After the fish are released into the sound, the next step is to find out if the stockings worked.”

Throughout the summer, NCDMF staff have been sampling locations in Albemarle Sound as part of their annual assessment of juvenile Striped Bass abundance. A small sliver of fin is removed from each Striped Bass before release and stored in a vial. Biologists will compare the genetic material of each young Striped Bass with the genetic material from the adult Striped Bass that were used during hatchery production to determine its origin.

“The use of genetic markers allows us to determine conclusively whether the Striped Bass we capture in Albemarle Sound originated from the Watha State Fish Hatchery or if they were spawned naturally in the wild,” said Charlton Godwin, biologist supervisor at NCDMF. “The technology can also be used to help us understand any differences in the contribution of hatchery fish between the three separate stocking years,” Godwin added.

Adult hatchery contribution on the Roanoke River spawning grounds near Weldon will also be assessed by NCWRC, once these stocked fish reach maturity in three to four years.

The recreational and commercial harvest seasons for Striped Bass in the Albemarle Sound and Roanoke River have been significantly reduced over the last three years as the stock has declined. Stocking is intended to be part of the solution to help reverse this trend.

“A robust Striped Bass fishery is vital to our local economies spanning from the upper Roanoke River spawning grounds in Halifax and Northampton counties downstream through Martin and Washington counties, and then continuing across the entire Albemarle Sound region,” Thomas remarked. “The N.C. Marine & Estuary Foundation views this initiative as a prime example of how we can collaborate with our state partners to improve depleted fisheries along our coast.”