Word is there’s still decent striped bass fishing along our south shore and in the canal. It’s getting kind of late for striped bass to still be here. Although most of the fish are off New Jersey by now and continuing south, there are still a fair number of fish in our back yard.
People are asking how that could be so.
Looking for answers, researchers on Martha’s Vineyard last week fitted 20 striped bass from Squibnocket Pond in Chilmark — a shallow, brackish coastal pond — with acoustic tags. Their goal is to discover if a year-round population of this typically migratory fish is living there. We already know some sexually immature fish do stay put, but we’re talking about a diverse population of fish here.
This project is a collaboration between the Natural Resources Dept. of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the Striped Bass Magic program at the University of Chicago Marine Biological Laboratory. They should have answers in a matter of weeks, and what they learn could potentially confirm the existence of the only documented nonmigratory body of striped bass in Massachusetts to date.
To tag the fish, researchers first trapped bass at Squibnocket Pond in a pen. Staff then took fish from the pen and put them in a cooler with water and an anesthetic. When the fish no longer responded to a tail pinch, researchers placed external loop tags behind their dorsal fins. Then they made a small incision in each fish’s underside and internal acoustic tags were inserted. The incisions were then sewn up, and as soon as the fish showed signs of being awake they were released.
Whether these tagged bass stay in Squibnocket and Menemsha ponds or begin migrating along the coast, they will be tracked. If the bass go in and out between the pond and the open water, the sensors will pick that up, too. We should get a fairly complete story of where these fish go and when.
If bass are found to stay here year-round there are unintended consequences to be considered — predatory pressure on herring, for one thing. Their restoration is a priority for the tribe’s natural resources department.
Squibnocket and Menemsha ponds are connected by Herring Creek, and for some 30 years the herring there have declined steadily. Additional research related to the state of the herring will be conducted in the spring if year-round bass are confirmed.
If it’s discovered that these stripers do indeed spawn in the Squibnocket pond complex rather than spawning in the Chesapeake Bay, where most do, or in the Hudson River, that would make this area unique.
Both the tribe and the state’s fisheries division will be looking for details on these bass. Regulators have, up to now, written recreational and commercial harvesting policies based on the striped bass’s seasonally induced migration activity.
If a subset population of the same species doesn’t migrate, then there’s certainly more to know about the two groups’ different behaviors.