Chris Sargent holds a striper at night, showing good contrast to the dark background. Credit: Courtesy of Chris Sargent

A crackdown on the size of striped bass that anglers are allowed to keep will hopefully prevent the fishery’s collapse.

To protect the long-term viability of the fish, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board on May 2 passed an emergency measure that prohibits the recreational harvest of striped bass measuring more than 31 inches.

The board enacted a rule that limits most anglers on the East Coast to the daily harvest of one striper measuring between 28 and 31 inches. Fish shorter or longer than that must be released.

The board’s decision comes after an extraordinary 2022 season, in which Maine saw a 352 percent increase from the previous year in the number of striped bass caught along its coast and in tidal waters. That harvest sent the probability of the board reaching its goal of rebuilding the fish stock by 2029 plummeting from 97 to 15 percent.

The rule will apply to recreational fisheries from Maine to North Carolina, with the exception of the Chesapeake Bay fishery, which has more liberal rules, including lower minimum lengths. It also does not affect commercial harvesting of striped bass.

States have until July 2 to implement the tighter striped bass slot limit. The regulation will then remain in effect for 90 days, through Oct. 28. The board could extend it for another 180 days at its October meeting.

“It’s definitely historic and a step in the right direction for stripers; long overdue, in my opinion,” said Ian Sawyer of Lyman, a longtime saltwater angler and Registered Maine Guide who spends much of his summer targeting stripers on the southern Maine coast.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources has scheduled a meeting for 5 p.m. Thursday to discuss the development and solicit feedback prior to implementing emergency state rules, with the intention of putting into effect prior to Memorial Day Weekend.

Anglers harvested 57,578 stripers last year, compared with only 12,740 during 2021, according to the Maine Recreational Information Program. Maine’s striped bass harvest had not exceeded 40,000 in any year from 2015-21.

The striped bass harvest for the entire East Coast fishery increased 91 percent a year ago.

The main purpose of the commission’s emergency action is to protect a prolific class of stripers.

“The 2015 year class is one of our larger year classes for striped bass, and in recent years we have seen low recruitment,” said Jeff Nichols, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Marine Resources. “As a result, the 2015 year class is important for supporting stock rebuilding.”

Nichols explained that last year, fish in the 2015 class were reaching the size included in the recreational fishing slot limit, which was then 28 inches to just less than 35 inches. That is problematic, given the success anglers enjoyed during 2022.

The commission’s technical committee estimates the average length of fish in the 2015 class should be approximately 31.6 inches this year, which under the previous rules would have made them legal to harvest.

“Lowering the slot limit should provide greater protection to that year class, which is critical to rebuild the striped bass stock,” Nichols said.

There were fears that having another successful harvest, with fish in the critical 2015 class abundant in the mix, could threaten the future abundance of stripers.

The slot limit is in place to protect the younger striped bass so they can grow, mature and reproduce well enough to replace the fish that are harvested, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Scientists set target population levels based on the size of the spawning stock, and female striped bass don’t start reproducing until between the ages of 4 and 8.

While the new rule will reduce the size of stripers Maine anglers can harvest, the goal is to help restore the fish to a more sustainable level and meet the 2029 population goal.

Stripers spend the winter in deeper waters off the Virginia and North Carolina coasts, according to As the water begins to warm in the spring, they migrate north, spawning in bays and rivers along the way.

After spawning they continue north into New England and Canada, seeking cooler water. That means the stripers that reach Maine have already traveled hundreds of miles and survived.

“It seems like a lot of the people that fish in Maine are more aware of the health of the fishery because of the fact that they do have to run the gauntlet,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer, a staunch advocate of catch-and-release fishing for stripers, said he would support even stricter rules to help secure the future of striped bass angling in Maine. That includes a smaller slot limit, or even giving them status as a protected species to reduce mortality.

“It’s a wild fishery that we’re very lucky to have,” Sawyer said. “They need to be managed to flourish for the future.”

He dreams of a day when Maine anglers have the chance to land a 70-pound striper.

While that might be a stretch, the fish can get that large if they can survive long enough.

“It’s amazing that some of these fish that are over 40 inches are like 25 years old,” Sawyer said.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...