Life History of Striped Bass

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

Mature female striped bass (age 4 and older) produce large quantities of eggs (up to 500,000), which are fertilized by mature males (age 2 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. 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 larvaeAfter 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 remain in coastal sounds and estuaries for two to four years, before migrating 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 of 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
Map courtesy of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.

In general, 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.