Challenges and Opportunities in Studying and Managing Striped Bass and Its Hybrids in the 21st Century
Phillip W. Bettoli
Abstract.—Much is known about the biology and management of striped bass Morone saxatilis and its hybrids, but much information is still needed for more effective management. Researchers are closing in on a grand unified theory of habitat selection by striped bass as a function of their size, thermal ecology, dissolved oxygen requirements, and forage availability. The role of forage in influencing habitat selection is perhaps the least understood and deserves further scrutiny to better predict the quality of striped bass fisheries. Although we can measure and model physico-chemical habitat quality, modeling habitat selection by striped bass is challenging, in part because systems vary widely in their physico-chemical and biological characteristics. Managing striped bass in some western U.S. waters, where natural reproduction can produce too many recruits, may become more challenging as reservoirs age and traditional fisheries for black basses Micropterus spp. decline. Modeling the population dynamics of striped bass and hybrid striped bass is simplified by the fact that most fisheries are maintained by stocking programs and the initial number of juvenile recruits is known with certainty; however, sampling protocols that will consistently yield unbiased estimates of key population parameters are needed. The potential for disruptive controversies surrounding striped bass management will always exist; however, increased use of conflict resolution techniques will help limit the collateral damage that often accompanies such controversies. Estimates of the benefits and costs associated with maintaining moronid fisheries are scarce but could ease such conflicts and help justify stocking programs. While inland striped bass and hybrid striped bass fisheries remain popular and are the focus of much management activity, the outlook for native stocks of striped bass in the Gulf of Mexico drainage is of concern. The state of knowledge concerning hybrid striped bass ecology and management is decades behind what we know about striped bass ecology and management. This situation needs to be addressed if agencies expand their hybrid striped bass stocking programs in response to changing reservoir environments, as some agencies in the southeast United States have already done.