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This Week’s Creature Feature

The Chesapeake Bay Rockfish

The striped bass, known around the Tidewater as the rockfish, is one of the most popular of all Eastern, saltwater, game fish. Found along the Atlantic Coast from Nova Scotia to Florida, rockfish have a lifespan of up to 30 years and have been know to exceed of 100 pounds. The current Maryland rod-and-reel record is 67 pounds and eight ounces.

Maryland rockfish are spawned in the freshwater reaches of Chesapeake Bay tributaries and remain in the Bay until the age of eight or nine, when they reach approximately 28 inches in length. Then the vast majority leave the Bay to live a migratory life along the Atlantic Coast. They return to the Chesapeake only briefly in early spring to spawn in the waters where they were born.

The total Atlantic population of striped bass is approximately 53 million. Close to 45 million of those fish were born right here in Chesapeake Bay. An eight-year-old female striped bass of some 28 inches produces over 500,000 eggs. A 15-year-old, 44-inch fish produces three million eggs. 

Maryland has traditionally had a significant commercial fishery. The number of active commercial watermen has fallen to about 600, but they still take a reported two million-plus pounds of rockfish annually, the most of any of the Eastern Seaboard states.

The Chesapeake also has a tradition of commercial poaching. Since the enforcement arm of the Department of Natural Resources is miniscule in comparison to the size of the Bay, the amount of unreported, undiscovered illegal landings may be not only considerable (see this week’s Sporting Life) but also harmful to the rockfish population of our Bay.