Life History of Striped Bass

On the Atlantic coast, striped bass range from the St. Lawrence River in Canada to the St. John’s River in Florida.  Migratory populations under Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission management range from Maine through North Carolina.This fish is a long-lived (at least up to 30 years of age) species that normally spends the majority of its adult life in coastal estuaries or the ocean, migrating north and south seasonally, and ascending to rivers to spawn in the spring. 

striped bass distribution map

*AquaMaps - Distribution of striped bass

 

Mature female striped bass (age four and older) produce large quantities of eggs (up to 500,000), which are fertilized by mature males (age two and older) as they are released into riverine spawning areas. The fertilized eggs drift downstream with currents while developing, eventually hatching into larvae. The larvae and post-larvae begin feeding on microscopic animals during their downstream journey. After their arrival in the nursery areas, located in river deltas and the inland portions of coastal sounds and estuaries, they mature into juveniles.

Striped bass larval development

*Scotton, L.N., R.E. Smith, N.S. Smith, K.S. Price and D.P. de Sylva, 1973. Pictorial guide to fish larvae of Delaware Bay: with information and bibliographies useful for the study of fish larvae

 

They remain in coastal sounds and estuaries for two to four years, and then they migrate to the Atlantic Ocean. In the ocean, fish tend to move north during the summer and south during the winter. Important wintering grounds for the mixed stocks are located from offshore New Jersey to as far south as North Carolina. With warming water temperatures in the spring, the mature adult fish migrate to the riverine spawning areas to complete their life cycle.

Seasonal Striped Bass Migration Map

striped bass migration

*From the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries


In general, the Chesapeake Bay spawning areas produce the majority of coastal migratory striped bass. Atlantic coast migratory striped bass use coastal rivers as spawning sites and the lower portions of the rivers and their associated bays and estuaries as nursery areas. Adult habitats include coastal rivers and the near-shore ocean. These habitats are distributed along the coast from Maine through North Carolina. Use of these habitats by migratory striped bass may increase or decrease as the size of the population changes.