Maryland Cancels Trophy Striped Bass Season

The breeders in the upper Chesapeake will get a break from April 1 to May 15.
Maryland Chesapeake Bay striped bass
The Maryland portion of Chesapeake Bay is off limits to striped bass fishing from April 1 to May 15. Stephen Badger / Maryland Department of Natural Resources

Recent emergency regulations from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources have canceled the striped bass trophy season in 2024, affecting the Maryland portion of Chesapeake Bay. Currently, anglers can continue to catch-and-release fish for striped bass in Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries until the end of March. From April 1 to May 15, fishing for striped bass is now prohibited.

The changes, approved by the Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review, were made to bolster striped bass spawning populations. Chesapeake Bay is a crucial spawning and nursery area for 70 to 90 percent of Atlantic Coast striped bass, so the emergency measures aim to safeguard mature fish during their spring spawning migration.

More Striped Bass Changes

These Maryland-specific actions are in addition to coast-wide recreational measures set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). In January, ASMFC approved an addendum (PDF) to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Striped Bass that aims to reduce fishing mortality in 2024. For Chesapeake Bay anglers — which includes charter boats — the addendum implements a 19- to 24-inch slot limit and a bag limit of one fish per person, per day. For anglers fishing in the ocean, the addendum implements a 28- to 31-inch slot limit and a coast-wide daily bag limit of one fish.

What Caused the Emergency Striper Closures?

To be blunt, five years of below average spawning success for striped bass has been disastrous. In 2023, Maryland’s annual striped bass young-of-year index had a value of 1.0. That’s significantly lower than the long-term average of 11.1. This key index measures reproductive success. Unfavorable environmental conditions, such as warm winters and low water flows, were identified as contributing factors to the decreased spawning rates.

“The recent recruitment numbers of juvenile striped bass show that additional management efforts are necessary to protect the overall population,” said Lynn Waller Fegley, Maryland’s DNR Fishing and Boating Services Director.

The repercussions of these lowly spawns are expected to really show in the adult striped bass population over the next few years, as the juveniles mature, leading to reduced abundance of legal-sized fish. A comprehensive striped bass stock assessment is scheduled to be released in 2024 to determine how the species responded to previous management actions made by Maryland and other coastal states.

What’s the Future Hold?

Don’t be surprised if the emergency trophy season closure becomes an annual occurrence. Maryland is considering establishing these new rules permanently. In past years, the striped bass trophy season has taken place during the first two weeks of May. This is when large female striped bass typically make their way up the Chesapeake Bay to spawn in the same rivers where they hatched.

Maryland is also considering extending the recreational and charter boat summer closure by an extra week — from July 16 to Aug. 7 — and closing the commercial hook-and-line season during the recreational and charter boat summer closure. Data show this period is the hottest part of summer when striped bass are most vulnerable to dying after being caught and released.