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Go Fish: Numbers Of Young Striped Bass Plummet In Bay

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Young striped bass have grown scarce, but their population is expected to recover.
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Young striped bass have grown scarce, but their population is expected to recover.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources says the number of young striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay has hit a record low. Even so, scientists say fishermen and diners need not worry, for now at least.

Since 1954, scientists like Erik Durell have been swiping nets through the Chesapeake Bay and counting baby Rockfish. On average, he'll get about 12 tiny fish per sample. This year, the average is less than one — 0.9, in fact.

"It's been a very poor year for striped bass reproduction," says Durell.

The reason is that it's also been a very dry year.  Striped Bass or, as rockfish as diners might know them, swim in from the ocean and far upstream to spawn, kind of like salmon. The trouble is, if the flow in rivers and creeks is too slow because of a lack of rain, the eggs don't get carried down to where they need to go. Instead, they fall to the bottom and die in the mud.

There is good news, though.

"These fish are long lived and return to spawn again and again, and that sort of overcomes the unfortunate years when things don't work out," says Durell.

Last year for example, the number of young was up almost 300 percent. Durell says it should even out as long as people don't get in the way.

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