Striped Bass Restoration along the Atlantic Coast:
A Multistate and Federal Cooperative Hatchery and Tagging Program


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
1825 Virginia Street, Annapolis, Maryland 21401, USA


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Southeastern Fish Cultural Laboratory
Marion, Alabama 36756, USA


Maryland Department of Natural Resources
C-2 Tawes Building, Annapolis, Maryland 21401, USA


Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control
Post Office Box 1401, Dover, Delaware 19901, USA


'Present address: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas 79409-2125, USA.

Abstract.Stocks of adult striped bass Morone saxatilis were extremely low from 1980 to 1987 along the Atlantic seaboard, especially in Chesapeake Bay. In an effort to rebuild these stocks, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission developed a coastwide management plan for anadromous striped bass. This plan included a stocking and evaluation program developed by a Technical Advisory Committee composed of representatives from all coastal states from Maine to North Carolina, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The committee prepared a report that provided guidance for restoration and tagging programs for striped bass along the Atlantic coast. The USFWS, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and state of Virginia entered into a cooperative agreement to develop a striped bass stocking and tagging program in Chesapeake Bay in 1985. The USFWS assigned a coordinator to assist the coastal states in implementing this program. By January 1988, 1.35 million striped bass had been tagged with binary-coded wire tags and 23,250 of these fish had also been tagged with internal anchor tags. Tags from this program and others along the Atlantic coast were collected by personnel of the coastal states and returned to the coordinator for processing. The USFWS National Fisheries Research Center at Leetown, West Virginia, helped evaluate tag returns.



Several factors that may have contributed to the decline in abundance of striped bass Morone saxatilis in Chesapeake Bay were reviewed in recent studies summarized in the Emergency Striped Bass Research Study Reports of USDI and USDC (1986, 1987). Because of the potentially synergistic and masking effects of interacting causes, no single reason for the decline was identified.

Suggested causes of the decline have included contaminants, predation and competition, availability of acceptable and nutritionally adequate prey for younger fish, nutrient overenrichment, water-use practices, disease, natural climatic or random environmental events, and overexploitation (Weaver et al. 1986). Recent investigations (USDI and USDC 1986; MDNR 1987) suggested that, of these factors, contaminants, prey availability, nutrient overenrichment, and water-use practices may be important in localized situations, on either a temporary or sustained basis.

However, two primary factors appear to exert significant control over striped bass populations: a large component of random environmental or abiotic events that influence, either positively or negatively, the survival of eggs to the juvenile stage; and overexploitation or excessive fishing mortality, which reduces survival from the juvenile to the spawning adult stage (Weaver et al. 1986).

Because of the limited stock of adult striped bass (Goodyear et al. 1985; Van Winkle et al. 1988) and extensive reproductive failure within Chesapeake Bay (Boreman and Austen 1985), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) signed a cooperative agreement in 1985. This agreement was to implement an experimental program to tag and evaluate hatchery-reared striped bass in Chesapeake Bay. In 1986, the state of Virginia and the USFWS also signed a cooperative agreement, whose goal was to investigate the feasibility of using artificial propagation to supplement the spawning stocks of striped bass in Maryland and Virginia; it has been considered a pilot program and not a full restoration program based on stocking hatchery-reared fish. Under these cooperative agreements, the USFWS committed six federal hatcheries to the production of striped bass 15-20 cm long, commonly known as phase-I I fish, to be reared from fry provided by MDNR (Van Tassel 1986) and Virginia.

The intent of these efforts was to maintain the viability of the resource by artificial means, (i.e., by stocking hatchery-reared fish) until the quality of the habitat improved, the fishery was brought under coordinated control, and natural reproduction and recruitment were restored.

In the present paper, we have three objectives: To explain the organization and development of the cooperative, coastwide, striped bass restoration program; to examine fishery management techniques used to develop and coordinate a largescale striped bass restoration and tagging program; and to present results on organizational success, coordination, tagging techniques, guidelines, data organization, and preliminary tag-return data.



During meetings held to develop an Atlantic coast striped bass management plan, biologists and managers voiced concerns about the potential effects of restoration actions on native stocks. The Striped Bass Stocking Subcommittee of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) established a Technical Advisory Committee in early 1985 to address these and other concerns, especially in Chesapeake Bay. Members of the committee were selected to represent states bordering the migratory range of striped bass along the Atlantic coast, from Maine to North Carolina. Seven charges were assigned the committee by the ASMFC (Parker and Miller 1986).

The first charge was to develop an inspection system to ensure that no pathogens were present on eggs or larvae shipped into other states and then returned to Maryland to be stocked in Chesapeake Bay. The committee's second charge was to review tagging programs for striped bass and recommend a coordinated tagging system for all stocked fish. The third charge was to develop procedures to evaluate the stocking restoration program to determine its effectiveness and when it should be terminated. In charges four and five, the committee was to assess the threat posed by stocking programs to the genetic integrity of native striped bass along the Atlantic coast, and to make recommendations regarding time, size, and strain of fish to be stocked. The sixth charge was to review stocking programs in each Atlantic state to ensure they did not conflict. The final charge was to develop an evaluation program, based on marked and tagged fish, to determine if hatchery-reared fish stocked along the Atlantic coast would mature, return to the areas where stocked, and spawn.

In this paper, we have treated in detail only the charges that directly affected development of the tagging and evaluation program. Other committee decisions are briefly presented as background information.



After considerable debate among members of the Technical Advisory Committee, advisors from state and federal agencies, and public and private organizations regarding the seven charges, the committee made a series of recommendations. They were approved by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and adopted as standard operating practice.

Responses to Charges

Recommendations for pathogen control.—The committee recommended that fish be screened for pathogens, especially the IPN (infectious pancreatic necrosis) virus, and that only disease-free fish be stocked. Through 1987, all adult striped bass used in the restoration program were screened for the IPN virus. Gamete samples were obtained by biologists during manual spawning, and fry samples were collected and analyzed where natural spawning had occurred and gamete samples were not readily available. No positive IPN samples were identified.

Recommendations for a tagging program.—The committee recommended that binary-coded wire tags be used to mark hatchery-reared fish stocked along the Atlantic coast, and that all fish be tagged if fewer than 1 million were stocked in 1 year. If more than 1 million were stocked, then a percentage, based on the number released and the estimated number in the natural stock, should be marked. Each lot of fish should be marked with a unique code to allow recognition among lots.

All striped bass released in 1986-1988 were marked with binary-coded wire tags, a method developed by Jefferts et al. (1963) that allows identification of thousands of different groups. A tagging center was developed to tag fish returning to Maryland from various hatcheries along the Atlantic coast. Large circular holding tanks (2.1 m x 0.9 m) supplied with lO% salt water and an extensive recirculating, liquid-oxygen injection system (10-15 mg/L) were used to hold fish for as long as 12 h before tagging. Coded wire tags were placed in the adductor mandibularis muscle (a muscle below the eye) of phase-II striped bass (Klar and Parker 1986).

For the tagging operation, a specially modified trailer (12 m x 2.5 m) was used that held six coded-wire-tagging machines and quality control units, as well as large temporary holding tanks for anesthetizing fish. Large tanks outside of the trailer were used to hold fish for post-tagging recovery from the anesthetic. Tagging equipment (Mark 4 machines, Northwest Marine Technology, Incorporated, Shaw Island, Washington') was used to inject a binary-coded wire tag 1.07 mm long and 0.254 mm in diameter into each fish through a 24-gauge hypodermic needle. Fish were aligned visually to the hypodermic needle, without the aid of a guiding head mold, and impaled manually on the injector needle; the tag was then injected through the hypodermic needle into the adductor muscle. The tagging machine was adjusted so that the needle was extended and stationary at the start of each cycle. Tags were magnetized in the needle before the machine was cycled. Up to 25,000 fish (over 4,000 per machine) were tagged daily with binary-coded wire tags, of which 500 also were marked with internal anchor tags. The typical tagging crew consisted of 12 members—6 to operate the six machines, 3 to handle fish for the machine operators, 2 to insert the internal anchor tags, and 1 to maintain the records. Tagging mortality was less than 1% when water temperature was less than 15C. Fish were held in highly oxygenated salt water, and 1 mg/L of tricaine methanesulfonate was used as an anesthetic during the tagging. Tags were placed only in the left adductor mandibularis muscle to ensure proper tag placement and to localize the area to be searched for coded wire tags during coastal sampling programs.

All binary-coded wire tags showed agency code, year stocked, hatchery producing the fish, and stocking location. Short-term tag retention of coded wire tags has averaged about 96% (Table 1). More extensive long-term tag retention work is under way. X-rays (USFWS series number 4 taken March 1986; C. Wooley, unpublished data) showed that the coded wire tag was almost immediately encapsulated within the adductor muscle mass, thus the potential for tag loss was low. Apparently the few tags lost during this procedure worked loose within 24 hours of injection.



TABLE 1.—Number and size of fish, and retention of coded wire tags, in phase-II striped bass tagged on 30 November 1987 and checked for presence of tags 10 or 12 d later.

Number Size (number/kg) Days after tagging Percent tag retention
275 30 10 95.7
30 30 12 96.6



Subsamples were marked with an internal anchor tag (a 5-mm x 20-mm toggle attached to a 75-mm streamer) inserted just posterior to the left pectoral fin while it was compressed to the body. A scale was removed at the point of tag insertion, and a vertical incision above 5 mm long was made with a curved scalpel blade, through the peritoneum but not deep enough to damage internal organs. The anchor of the tag was inserted through the incision and set in place with a gentle pull on the streamer. All streamers were treated with an algicide. Anchor tags were used to obtain additional information on coded wire tag retention in the wild, exploitation rates, movement, and growth. They also served as indicators of movement of fish marked with binary-coded wire tags outside the sampling areas.

Recommendations for an evaluation program.—The Committee recommended that the stocking and evaluation program continue for 9 years to allow maturation and return of three year-classes of hatchery-reared fish. If stocked fish failed to return, or if they returned, spawned, and their progeny died because of environmental conditions, then the restoration program should be terminated.

Numerous surveys were conducted coastwide to obtain tag returns for program evaluation. Survey techniques included coordinated sampling by state, private, and federal agencies. Sampling in Chesapeake Bay was conducted with beach seines, gill nets, trawls, and by electrofishing. All fish within the possible size-range of stocked tagged fish were checked for the presence of tags. At this point in the cooperative restoration program, fish that tested positive for binary-coded wire tags were not sacrificed to obtain additional data.

Along the Atlantic seaboard, additional surveys and adult striped bass tagging programs have been planned for the eastern end of Long Island, New York; Hudson River, New York; Delaware River and Bay, New Jersey; Point Judith, Rhode Island; and Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. At these sampling locations, all striped bass 4 years old or less are to be surveyed for binary-coded wire tags as part of a coordinated coastal effort to obtain information on movements, migration, and exploitation of hatchery-reared and tagged fish.

Recommendations to maintain genetic integrity.—All hatchery striped bass involved in this large-scale tagging program have been identified through their hatchery phase by lot numbers and parental rivers of origin. All fish are tagged and released only into their natal rivers. Techniques used to ensure this arrangement are careful record keeping, coordination of assigned binary-coded wire tag codes with the tag manufacturer to ensure correct stocking location designation, use of a central tagging location, and coordination to help ensure that the correct tagging codes are used each day.

Recommendations for size, source, and time of stocking.—In the Chesapeake Bay striped bass restoration program, all stocking has occurred with tagged phase II (15-20 cm TL) striped bass except for an experimental stocking in June-July 1987 of phase I (35-50 mm long) fish performed to test marking methods and tag retention. In phase I striped bass, tag placement in the adductor muscle was perpendicular to the body axis. Tagging machines were used with the tag injection needle in the stationary mode. Standard length (1 mm) binary-coded wire tags were used. About 15,800 phase I fish were tagged and released into the Patuxent River, Maryland. Post-tagging, overnight mortality rates averaged 1% during two test periods. In a control group of 3,000 phase I fish held for long-term tag retention studies by the USFWS, National Fisheries Research Center, Leetown, West Virginia, tag retention was 97.3% after 6 months (J. G. Geiger, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, personal communication).

Recommendations to ensure that state programs are nonconflicting.—Each year, coastal states engaged in stocking and tagging of striped bass held a review meeting. This enabled the subcommittee to verify compliance with stocking and tagging guidelines. Problems, questions on techniques, and new data and ideas were presented.

Recommendations for an evaluation program.—All coded wire and internal anchor tag returns have been coordinated for the cooperative tagging program by the USFWS. Most internal anchor tag returns were obtained by collect phone calls to the USFWS, Annapolis, Maryland. Each caller was asked by trained personnel to answer a standard questionnaire over the phone. A central depository and data-base organizational protocol have been developed, with extensive assistance from the USFWS National Fishery Research Center. The computer program PARADOX (2.0) is used to manage the database, which is then sent to the center for data analysis.

Tagging in 1985

Adult striped bass captured during the spawning period in the Patuxent River, the Upper Bay, and the Nanticoke River produced about 15 million fry 3-5 days old—8 million from the Patuxent, 4 million from the Upper Bay, and 3 million from the Nanticoke River. The fry were transported to private, state, and federal hatcheries to be reared to an age suitable for stocking in the waters from which their parents were taken.

Nearly 400,000 striped bass fingerlings were later stocked back into the bay system. Of these, about 166,000 were stocked as 5-cm fingerlings in early summer—120,000 in the Patuxent, 20,000 in the Upper Bay, and 26,000 in the Nanticoke. The rest were reared to a larger size and released in November and December—126,000 in the Patuxent, 49,000 in the Upper Bay, and 58,000 in the Nanticoke. Nearly 187,000 of these larger fish were tagged with coded wire tags before release (Table 2), and 4,000 were also tagged with internal anchor tags (Table 3).

Tagging in 1986

In 1986 nearly 11.5 million fry 8-10 days old were produced, 8 million from spawners in Patuxent River and 3.5 million from fish in the Upper Bay. Of this total, 8.4 million were distributed to federal hatcheries and the rest to a variety of research stations and state (Maryland DNR) and private hatcheries. In 1986 all phase II fish were tagged with coded wire tags and released between 27 October and 17 December (Table 4). A total of 367,995 fish were tagged with coded wire tags; of these, 9,750 were double-tagged with coded wire and internal anchor tags (Table 3).



TABLE 2.—Numbers of hatchery-reared striped bass tagged with binary-coded wire tags, and numbers not tagged, released in Chesapeake Bay in 1985.

  Number released
Hatcherya Tagged Not tagged
Manning State Hatchery, MDNR, Maryland 4,723 2,845
Harrison Lake NFH, Virginia 61,840  
Edenton NFH, North Carolina 56,852 12,874
McKinney Lake NFH, North Carolina 7,404 23,000
BG&E, Maryland 40,672 1,697
Horn Point, Maryland 6,405  
Frankfort NFH, Kentucky 5,092 5,930
Orangeburg NFH, South Carolina 3,939 7,061
Total 186,926 53,407

aMDNR, Maryland Department of Natural Resources; NFH, National Fish Hatchery; BG&E, Baltimore Gas and Electric Company; Horn Point Environmental Laboratories, University of Maryland.



TABLE 3.—Numbers of striped bass marked with binary-coded wire tags, numbers of coded-wire-tagged fish marked with internal anchor tags, and percent of tagged fish marked with both tags in 1985-1987, Chesapeake Bay.

Year Number of coded wire tags Number of internal anchor tags Percent with both tags
1985 187,000 4,000 2.1
1986 268,000 9,750 2.6
1987 801,000 9,500 1.2
Total 1,356,000 23,250 1.7



TABLE 4.—Numbers of striped bass from 12 hatcheries marked with binary-coded wire tags and released in Chesapeake Bay in 1986 and 1987.

  Number tagged and released
Hatcherya 1986 1987
Manning State Hatchery, MDNR, Maryland 21,782 26,897
Bowden NFH, West Virginia 6,497b 26,897
Senecaville NFH, Ohio 89,335 105,561
BG&E, Maryland 10,840 116,713
NFC-Leetown, West Virginia 4,874  
PEPCO, Maryland 3,495 237,128
Harrison Lake NFH, Virginia 31,739 96,449
Edenton NFH, North Carolina 117,247 43,359
McKinney Lake NFH, North Carolina 67,601 66,723
Warm Springs NFH, Georgia 3,549  
Millen NFH, Georgia 2,754 20,705
Elkton, Maryland 8,362 1,977
Total 367,995 801,341

aMDNR, Maryland Department of Natural Resources; NFH, National Fish Hatchery; BG&E, Baltimore Gas and Electric Company; NFC, National Fisheries Center, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Leetown, West Virginia; PEPCO, Potomac Electric Power Company, Chalk Point, Maryland; Elkton, a private fish hatchery operated by contract from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

bPhase-l fish were transferred from PEPCO, Maryland, to Bowden NFH where they were reared to phase-II size.



TABLE 5.—The numbers and sizes of striped bass marked with binary-coded wire tags, and the location and time of stocking in Chesapeake bay.

Year Period Sizea Location Number stocked
1985 Nov-Dec Phase II Patuxent River 126,000
      Nanticoke River 58,00
      Upper Bay 20,000
1986 Oct-Dec Phase II Patuxent 298,129
      Nanticoke River 8,866
      Upper Bay 59,282
1987 Jun-Jul Phase I Patuxent River 15,800
  Oct-Dec Phase II Patuxent River 377,242
      Choptank River 324,529
      Upper Bay 31,129
      Nanticoke 68,441

aPhase I, 2.5-7 cm long; phase II, 15-20 cm long.


Tagging in 1987

In 1987 about 18.5 million fry 6-14 days old were produced by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Of this total 14 million were distributed to federal, state, and private utility company hatcheries. In 1987 all phase II striped bass were tagged with binary-coded wire tags and released from 14 October to 11 December (Table 5). A total of 801,341 fish were tagged with binary-coded wire tags, and 9,500 of these were double-tagged (Table 3). By January 1988, more than 1.35 million striped bass had been tagged and stocked in three river systems and the upper Chesapeake Bay (Table 5).


Between November 1985 and 20 June 1988, 566 internal anchor tags from hatchery-reared striped bass were returned. Tags were recovered primarily from anglers who caught striped bass while fishing for other species, or during biological sampling programs. More than 525 coded-wiretagged striped bass were captured during limited experimental sampling by survey crews in the bay during 1986,1987, and early 1988. The program to recover coded wire tags was scheduled to expand in 1988 as the fish approached the size range vulnerable to gill nets, the main sampling gear used in Maryland.



Techniques and Problem Identification

IPN.—Because IPN may cause mortality under certain conditions found in a hatchery or a largescale tagging center, we believe it is extremely important to have all stocks of striped bass sampled for this pathogen before a tagging program is started. Obviously, we did not want to release infected juvenile striped bass into the natural environment where they could pass the disease to uninfected wild fish. Subsequent undetected releases of large numbers of infected fish would also bias tag returns for that particular cohort. An undetected kill of a large percentage of IPN-positive fish could result in a critical bias if known numbers of tagged striped bass were used in extensive mark-recapture experiments.

Reduced effort effect.—Because of the Maryland moratorium of taking striped bass in Chesapeake Bay, and because of greatly reduced commercial and sport harvests along the Atlantic coast, more help is needed from state and federal agencies to sample the wild stock of coastal migratory striped bass. The temporary loss of samples, formerly supplied by fishermen, has required public agencies to develop a large-scale assessment program to evaluate the status of the striped bass population. Therefore, more time, energy, and money must be spent by state and federal agencies to obtain fishery-independent data on the coastal migratory stock. Excellent interagency cooperation and use of one state's field-sampling program to obtain data to meet another agency's needs must become the normal operational procedure.

Lack of external marks.—The traditional method of marking salmonids that carry binary-coded wire tags by clipping their adipose fins does not work with striped bass, who lack an adipose fin and quickly regenerate other fin clips. Instead, biologists must sample or subsample large numbers of fish to obtain tag returns. Portable detection units must be used by field crews to document the presence or absence of tags in fish. Because portable tag detectors are capable of detecting minute disturbances in a magnetic field, they are difficult to use in rolling seas, in the presence of large metal booms and winches, and on board vessels whose vibrating diesel engines produce positive readings. Thus, with certain vessels used in fishery research along the Atlantic seaboard, biologists are not able to use existing portable tag detectors.

Because this problem is unique to striped bass being tagged with binary-coded wire tags, biologists have been working closely with the manufacturer of the equipment to document problems encountered in field sampling. The next generation of portable detectors for coded wire tags will contain a shielding mechanism to prevent interference from vibration and movement; also, the new design will enable field crews to quickly sample large numbers of striped bass, whether they are captured commercially or during the biological sampling program.

Application to Other Programs

The pilot restoration program for striped bass has operated smoothly during its first 3 years. Its operational success has been attributed largely to the decision-making process and cooperative efforts of all Atlantic coast states, the federal agencies involved, and the private sector including Baltimore Gas and Electric Company, Potomac Electric Power Company, and Delmarva Ecological Lab. The Technical Advisory Committee and the Striped Bass Board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission provided the avenues for the state and federal agencies to jointly develop and modify the program to accommodate special needs or address specific problems. The potential success of the program was greatly increased when the USFWS assigned one employee to work full time as the program coordinator. Other factors in support of the program have included the willingness of the states to collect and share data, to collect and spawn brood fish, and to provide fry to be reared in federal and private hatcheries.

Public support and involvement in the program have been encouraged and maintained through a series of educational activities, including news releases, press conferences, video tapes, and conspicuous involvement of high-level public officials at ceremonial releases of striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay or other coastal waters. The reward system established for return of the external portion of the internal anchor tag also has increased awareness and public support for the program. Establishment of a central processing point for all tags has increased chances for success of the program by reducing the confusion and duplication associated with multiple tag-return sites.

Recommendations for Other Programs

On the basis of the early operational success of this program, we offer the following recommendations for similar ventures.

    (1) Involve all affected parties in the decision making process.

    (2) Assign one person to coordinate operations of all involved parties.

    (3) Establish a central point for tagging fish or use a mobile crew to tag fish at various locations.

    (4) Apply tags in the same location on the fish by standardized techniques.

(5) Tag all hatchery-reared fish to be released.

    (6) Establish a reward system to encourage return of tags by the public.

    (7) Establish standardized surveys conducted by agency personnel to gather data on internal tags.

          (8) Establish a central data-processing point to collect and analyze all data.

(9) Ensure that funding for field surveys, tag rewards, other data collection by agency personnel, and data analyses is at least equal to the funding required for producing, tagging, and releasing fish.



We thank all members and advisors to the Technical Advisory Committee for their assistance; E.A. Science and Technology, Middletown, New York, for sharing their knowledge of marking striped bass with coded wire tags; and R. S. Holt, National Marine Fisheries Service, LaJolla, California, and J. G. Loesch, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Gloucester Point, Virginia, for reviewing the manuscript. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation provided financial assistance for the tag-reward program.



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    Klar, G. T., and N. C. Parker. 1986. Marking fingerling striped bass and blue tilapia with coded wire tags and Microtaggants. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 6:439-444.

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Van Winkle, W., K. D. Kumar, and D. S. Vaughan. 1988. Relative contributions of Hudson River and Chesapeake Bay striped bass stocks to the Atlantic coastal population. American Fisheries Society Monograph 4:255-266.

Van Tassel, J. 1986. Culture of Maryland striped bass. Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Tidewater Administration, Annapolis, Maryland.

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