Rebound of Several Sport Fish

Several sport fish have bounced back with management. Often sport and commercial fisherman fought the restrictions of the management plan but are glad now that the populations have rebounded.


Redfish (red drum) are very popular in the south and on the gulf coast and actually all the way up to Maine. It was overfished and the population had crashed. Texas declared it a sport fish which stopped commercial fishing and put controls on limits by sport fishermen. Other states put on restrictions as well. Redfish is popular because it is in many places, is good eating and will go after a range of baits and lures, and it puts up a good fight. The population has been making a come back since the restrictions were put in place.

Rockfish / Stripped Bass

Perhaps the most popular sport fish on the East Coast. It is generally called striped bass but is known as rockfish on the Chesapeake Bay. It had been almost wiped out by sport and commercial fisherman. It has been an important fish for a long time. In 1639 one of the first ever environmental laws was passed. Massachusetts declared it illegal to use striped bass for fertilizer.

Because striped bass’ territory covers at least 12 states, regulation would be difficult so the federal government stepped in with some oversight. The law had teeth because if a state didn’t come up with an acceptable plan to protect rockfish, the government could ban all fishing for striped bass in that state.

In Maryland and Virginia, the Chesapeake Bay is the spawning ground for 80-90% of all striped bass on the East Coast. In 1985, the Maryland governor banned all sport and commercial fishing of rockfish in Maryland. A number of other states follow and the ban lasted several years. The fish started to bounce back and a few years back was considered completely restored to historical levels. But in the last few years, the population  has dropped some and fishermen have been asked to observe  a voluntary fishing limit of one fish per day in a certain size range and none in a smaller size range. It is hoped this gives the 2011 juveniles a chance to get to be breeding stock.


A top predator on the great lakes, the muskie was almost wiped out by the topmost predator of all, man. Over the last 30 years, 5 clubs of anglers have helped bring the muskie back. Each club has a large pond that they fill int the spring. Then food gets tossed in to accelerate algae growth. Then zooplankton start growing and feeding on the algae. At this point, the DNR brings along newly hatched muskie which feed on the zooplankton. More food is dumped in on a weekly basis to sustain the growth of the algae and the zooplankton. The DNR keeps track of their growth and once they reach a certain size it is time to release them. They need to be released because at this size they switch to being carnivores and would start cannibalizing each other.  So the ponds are slowly drained and when it is low enough the small muskie are collected and transported to the lake. There are now self sustaining populations in the Great Lakes and rather than continuing to stock those, most of the newly raised muskie are taken to smaller lakes to help those populations bounce back.

So these and others, such as steelhead trout in some areas show that conservation efforts can make a difference.

Chesapeake Bay Grasses

Yeah, time to celebrate! Chesapeake Bay grass beds expanded by 27% in the last year. Then again, maybe not as we will see. The grass beds had been expanding until 2011 when two storms, Irene and Lee devastated the beds.

The increase in the last year has brought the grass beds back to 76,000 acres, nearly where they were before 2011. But it is still less than half the 185,000 acre goal targeted by the restoration effort. The effort is one part of a larger effort to bring back the health of the Bay. Even so, the target is still far less than the historic area covered by grass beds and subaquatic vegetation (SAV).

Why should you Care about Grasses in the Bay?

They are also known as seaweed. If you like oysters and crabs and rockfish, you should care about the grass beds. They provide sanctuary and breeding grounds for crabs and fish. They are also a safe place for crabs to molt when they are most vulnerable.

Helping Clean the Water

The grasses also filter nutrients out of the water and help keep the water clear. They need sunlight just like plants on land, so they grow better if the water is clear. Beds of seaweed have an amazing damping effect on waves and can greatly decrease shore erosion as well which will also help clear the water. Plus, they absorb nutrients which helps prevent algae blooms which are caused by excess nutrients.

There could also be a synergistic effect between grasses and oysters. Oysters are filter feeders and also help clear the water and also do better in clear water.  If we can succeed in getting both the oysters and the grasses to thrive, we might once again have clear waters in the Chesapeake like it was before the 1950s.

If there is too much sediment in the water, such as after a storm, the sediment not only shades out light, it can settle on the grasses’ leaves and further block the sunlight. Algae blooms also block the light getting to the plants.

Temperature has an affect as well. Hot summers in 2005 and 2010 killed a lot of eel grass int the southern part of the Bay. They bounced back somewhat this past year as well. The hope is that the summer won’t be too hot and the eel grass will continue to recover.

Short Term or Long Term Gain?

The big worry is that this gain may be ephemeral. In the past, grass beds have been a mix of species. If conditions weren’t good for one species, the others would fill in.

The large gains in the last year are worrisome because it is almost entirely due to widgeon grass. This particular grass can disappear as rapidly as it appears. So, if the conditions change and the widgeon grass dies back, all of this last year’s gains could be lost.