Striped Bass: Restoring a Vanishing Breed
Once common to coastal rivers and estuaries of the northern Gulf of Mexico, striped bass declined and nearly vanished in the 1960s. The Gulf Coast Research Laboratory began turning that decline around in 1967 with a program focused on restoring striped bass (Morone saxatilis) in coastal waters along the Mississippi coast.
Prior to Hurricane Katrina, each year for more than 30 years, GCRL project personnel
- Released 100,000 or more juvenile stripers into Mississippi coastal rivers in early summer;
- Retained 20,000 or more of the two-inch fish and placed them into the newly emptied tanks for growth to about six inches with tag and release conducted in the fall.
- The project supported the development of a Mississippi coastal sport fishery for the species prized for its size, fight, and taste.
- The GCRL, in cooperation with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, raised and released more than 14 million striped bass in Mississippi coastal rivers.
- Any striper caught in Mississippi coastal rivers and adjacent waters from the late 60s to the present day came from the GCRL project.
- Sport fishers were instrumental in providing data on the health, growth and catch location of released fish.
- Scientific advances were made in understanding the spawning, culture and life history.
- Equipment and techniques for use in rearing and releasing healthy striped bass were developed through the project and remain in use in other coastal states.
- Broodstock were maintained for up to 16 years.
On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina completely destroyed the striped bass program facilities. The soon-to-be-released six-inch juveniles were lost as well as the broodstock.
With a commitment to reestablishing and enhancing the program, personnel have been relocated to the GCRL's Cedar Point expansion site. Equipment lost in the storm is being replaced, and new culture facilities are being planned. Through continued funding from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, research is focused on evaluating the standing population of striped bass in Mississippi coastal waters to determine:
- the population structure,
- the overall health of the fish, and
- whether a reproductive population has been established.
New partnerships with local sport fishers and state agencies are being developed in preparation for reestablishing and accelerating the stocking program once culture facilities are restored.