Arkansas Game Fish Commission
Striped Bass Species Plan 2nd Edition October, 2018

Prepared by Matt Horton, Steve Lewis, Sean Lusk, Jeremy Risley, Jon Stein, Brett Hobbs, Chair
Approved by:
Ben Batten, Chief of Fisheries ARKANSAS GAME AND FISH COMMISSION

Striped Bass Species Management Plan 2nd Edition Mission Statement:

The mission of the Striped Bass Species Management Plan is to effectively manage Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass fisheries in Arkansas using the best available science in conjunction with the desires of resident and non-resident fishing license holders.
Objectives:
1) Develop and utilize standard sampling protocols based on the latest science, in conjunction with American Fisheries Society (AFS) standard protocols where possible, to ensure consistent data collection statewide.
2) Determine the desires and attitudes of moronid anglers toward management strategies.
3) Use population characteristics to categorize moronid fisheries.
4) Maintain the genetic diversity of stocked moronid populations.

Table of Contents
Executive Summary
Introduction
Management Issues
Standard Sampling Procedures
Hatchery Production
Stocking
Evaluation of Prey Populations
Angler Conflicts
Research Needs
Management Plan Goals, Objectives, and Strategies
Literature Cited

Appendices
Appendix 1.
Standard sampling methods for Striped Bass, Hybrid Striped Bass, and White Bass in Arkansas Waters
Appendix 2.
Growth categories for Striped and Hybrid Striped Bass.

Executive Summary

Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass (aka “hybrids”) are currently stocked into five lakes in Arkansas. Striped Bass populations are biologically limited to waters offering acceptable habitat and forage. Conducive habitat for this species is primarily found in large Corps of Engineers reservoirs located in mountainous areas of the state (Ouachitas and Ozarks). The deep water afforded by these fisheries provide summer refuge areas capable of sustaining this species, allowing them to grow to their size potential.
Mixed populations of Threadfin and Gizzard Shad exist in these fisheries, satisfying the forage needs of these pelagic predators.
Arkansas Hybrid Striped Bass fisheries have primarily been confined to Arkansas waters offering similar water quality, however, hybrids have a much greater tolerance of acceptable water quality and would readily survive if stocked into many Arkansas waters.

 A recent survey of licensed Arkansas anglers indicated a low percentage (< 1%) of Arkansas anglers target moronids (members of the family Moronidae, including Striped Bass, Hybrid Striped Bass, White Bass, and Yellow Bass) relative to black bass, crappie, and catfish (Hunt and Westlake 2017).
However, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) continues to maintain several moronid fisheries with annual stockings.
These moronid fisheries are sustained by stockings from the AGFC hatchery system, produced at the Andrew Hulsey State Fish Hatchery in Hot Springs.

 The 3 primary reservoirs in Arkansas for Striped Bass management include Beaver Lake, Lake Norfork, and Lake Ouachita.
While Lake Norfork continues to receive some Hybrid Striped Bass stockings, the emphasis for management of this species is currently isolated to DeGray Lake.
The future of the Greers Ferry Lake Hybrid Striped Bass fishery is pending evaluation of forage base deficiencies identified in 2014.

Arkansas Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass fisheries are currently regulated primarily through daily creel limits.
While certain fisheries have minimum length limits, use of harvest size restriction to manage these species has been limited.

The overall goal of this species plan is to facilitate management of these fisheries that meets stakeholder desires, while utilizing the best available science, while not adversely affecting other sport fish populations. In recent years, AGFC biologists have increased the amount of sampling effort directed toward these species. Continued effort is needed by management district biologists to sample these populations. Currently, the AGFC is taking strides to further evaluate the DeGray Lake Hybrid Striped Bass Fishery, funding a study through the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Results of this study will provide future management direction for other Arkansas moronid fisheries.

Hydroacoustic surveys of forage fishes (shad) in our moronid fishery reservoirs will be evaluated in upcoming years.
In the absence of previously used methods to assess shad forage base, cove rotenone and gill netting, this technique will be evaluated.
The AGFC is moving to acquire the equipment for this sampling, with sampling to begin in 2019.

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Introduction

Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis) are native to the East and Gulf Coasts of the United States. Populations in their native range are anadromous, living most of their life in the sea and ascending freshwater rivers to spawn. Dam construction and subsequent closure of the SanteeCooper River system in 1941 (South Carolina) landlocked adult Striped Bass for the first time. Subsequently, it was realized the Striped Bass not only survived in a fresh water reservoir but could also prosper with some achieving trophy size. Other states began stocking Striped Bass into reservoirs with hopes of offering a “deep-sea” type fishing experience in inland reservoirs.

Striped Bass adults were initially stocked into two Arkansas reservoirs, Lake Greeson and Lake Ouachita, in 1956 and 1957, respectively. By the 1970’s it was evident the reservoir Striped Bass fisheries in Arkansas could only be maintained by stockings from hatchery-reared fish. Artificial spawning and rearing techniques were developed to levels where the culture and stocking of Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass could be routinely conducted on an annual basis (Stevens et al. 1965; Stevens 1966, 1967; Bayless 1972). Numerous Arkansas lakes were stocked with Striped Bass including Maumelle, Beaver, Norfork, Hamilton and Catherine. However, not all of those lakes were successful at maintaining healthy Striped Bass populations. Lake Maumelle Striped Bass suffered from an insufficient forage fish population and was removed from the stocking program in the 1980’s. Most recently, Lake Greeson was removed from the Striped Bass stocking program due to inadequate sustained summer refuge habitat frequently resulting in die-offs. Lake Greeson received its last fingerling Striped Bass stocking in 2010.

Striped Bass fisheries are currently maintained via annual fingerling stockings in three large Corps of Engineers reservoirs in Arkansas (Beaver, Ouachita, and Norfork). Lake Hamilton typically receives Striped Bass fingerling stockings every other year. All four reservoirs feature appropriate water quality and forage availability to produce trophy Striped Bass. However, Lake Norfork intermittently suffers late summer die-offs during years characterized by heavy spring inflows.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) has stocked numerous lakes, including Greers Ferry, DeGray, DeQueen, Beaver, Norfork, Little River, Horseshoe, Hinkle, Harris Brake, Hamilton, Charles, Millwood, Nimrod, Overcup, Sugarloaf, Lake Fort Smith and Storm Creek with Hybrid Striped Bass (Palmetto cross) since the 1970’s. In 2016, stocking of Hybrid Striped Bass into smaller lakes, such as Horseshoe, Little River, DeQueen, and Storm Creek were eliminated due to the lack of interest by anglers. Also in 2016, Fisheries Division ceased stocking of Hybrid Striped Bass into lakes with Striped Bass fisheries to reduce interspecific competition for food and increase the overall growth and condition of the preferred Striped Bass populations. Currently, only two Arkansas lakes are being stocked with Hybrid Striped Bass (DeGray and Norfork). The only lake currently stocked with both Hybrid Striped Bass and Striped Bass is Lake Norfork. District 10 fisheries biologists documented a significant forage fish deficiency in Greers Ferry Lake in 2015 resulting in reduced predator species condition and declared a five year moratorium on all predator species stockings, including Hybrid Striped Bass.
Continued stocking of Hybrid Striped Bass into Greers Ferry Lake will be reevaluated in 2020 using angler harvest and pressure data collected from a 2016–2017 yearlong creel survey.

A Striped Bass fishery exists in the Arkansas River, supported by natural reproduction. High summer water temperatures in the river are limiting to the production of large Striped Bass.
Arkansas River Striped Bass will seldom exceed ten pounds in weight (personal communication, Frank Leone).

Arkansas’s Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass fisheries have and will continue to produce trophy-sized fish.
Striped Bass over 40 pounds are caught annually from Beaver, Ouachita, and Norfork.
Both DeGray Lake and Greers Ferry Lake have reciprocated producing state record Hybrid Striped Bass.

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Currently Striped and Hybrid Striped Bass are managed under a statewide daily creel limit of 6 Striped and Hybrid Striped Bass combined (Table 1).

Table 1.
Current Striped and Hybrid Striped Bass regulations.
Statewide regulations allow the combined harvest of six Striped or Hybrid Striped Bass per day.

Lake Fishery Regulation
Beaver Lake - Striped and Hybrid Striped Bass combined daily limit 3;
Striped Bass minimum length limit 20 inches

Bull Shoals Lake  - Striped and Hybrid Striped Bass daily limit 3

Lake Hamilton  - Striped and Hybrid Striped Bass - Statewide regulations

DeGray Lake - Hybrid Striped Bass - Statewide regulations

Lake Greeson Striped Bass - Statewide regulations

Greers Ferry Lake -  Hybrid Striped Bass - Statewide regulations

Lake Norfork - Striped and Hybrid Striped Bass  combined daily limit 3; Striped Bass minimum length limit 20 inches

Arkansas River - Striped and Hybrid Striped Bass combined daily limit 10

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Management Issues

Undeniably, money is generated for local economies by Arkansas Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass fisheries.
However, the extent of this economic benefit is unknown in the absence of a properly designed economic input study.
Arkansas Striped Bass Guides have often touted the importance of this stimulus to local economies via their businesses, but are unable to substantiate the level of this stimulus.
Lothrop et al. (2014) suggested economic impact assessment for a fishery should be taken into account when total fishery management plans are being evaluated.
This species plan has been formulated without this type assessment being available within Arkansas.
Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass are frequently viewed negatively by anglers pursuing other sportfish species, and are often believed to adversely affect angling for their preferred species.

Miranda and Raborn (2013) and Churchill et al. (2002) suggested anglers targeting black bass and crappie often indicate Stripers or Hybrids are preying on preferred gamefish or are competing with preferred gamefish for the same food supply. Numerous food habit studies have documented the majority of the diet of both Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass is shad (Miranda et al. 1998; Filipek and Claybrook 1984). An evaluation of shad forage base trends in our moronid reservoirs is a desirable goal considering this fact. Fisheries Division is moving toward acquisition of modern hydroacoustics equipment to evaluate shad forage base abundance trends. Bettoli (2013) suggests additional research regarding the human dimensions aspects of Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass fisheries will be needed as user conflicts are inevitable and likely to increase.

Sampling protocols that will consistently yield unbiased estimates of key population parameters are needed for our moronid fisheries. AGFC biologists will continue to engage in studies to evaluate the growth of Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass as we are currently in the infancy of these assessments. Growth of these species often reflects the suitability of habitats and effectiveness of management strategies (e.g. stocking rate).

Striped Bass fisheries offer a unique challenge. There is an inherent angler conflict between a strong desire to catch trophy Striped Bass and the desire to regularly harvest fish, making the job of a fishery manager particularly challenging (McMullin 2013).
Striped Bass guided trips are primarily harvest oriented.
While many anglers being guided are content with a modest average size catch, certain clients will seek exclusively “trophy” fish.
So, in addition to the conflict between Striped Bass anglers and anglers who target other species, there is also disagreement among Striped Bass anglers over which management approach is preferred (numbers vs trophy).

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Standard Sampling Procedures

In Arkansas, although important recreationally, moronids have not been evaluated on an annual basis and standardized methods for sampling moronids have not been used by AGFC until recently. There have been a few special projects focused on evaluating moronid populations in Arkansas. Filipek and Claybrook (1984) evaluated the seasonal diets of Lake Hamilton Striped Bass and DeGray Lake Hybrid Striped Bass. Lusk and Hobbs (2017a) evaluated the growth, mortality and population size of Hybrid Striped Bass in DeGray. Additionally, the growth and mortality of Lake Ouachita Striped Bass were evaluated during spring 2016 in conjunction with the Striped Bass project (Lusk and Hobbs 2017b). Other efforts have been made to sample moronids in Arkansas waters, but few have been conducted following a standard sampling procedure. This lack of routine standardized sampling for moronids has resulted in inadequate information necessary for evaluating moronid populations in Arkansas.

This lack of standardized moronid sampling is not unique to Arkansas. Throughout the southeastern United States federal and state agencies have employed numerous sampling gears and methods to evaluate reservoir moronid populations. Some of these sampling gears and methods include: gillnets, creel surveys, telemetry, hydroacoustics, and modeling.
Historically, gillnets have been amongst the most common gears used to sample reservoir moronids and evaluate population vital rates. However, many agencies utilize different gillnet configurations and sampling designs which makes comparing data sets difficult.
Creel surveys, when properly designed, can be an effective tool to estimate effort, catch, and harvest of moronids in inland reservoirs (Schlechte et al. 2013). In many cases, special survey design considerations must be taken into account to effectively sample moronid anglers and accurately estimate effort, catch, and harvest of moronids. More recently, advances in telemetry in conjunction with tag reward studies have proven to be an effective tool for evaluating natural and fishing related mortality of reservoir moronids (Hightower et al. 2001). Additionally, advances in hydroacoustics are showing promise in the ability to better estimate the abundance of moronids in some reservoirs (Hightower et al. 2013). Using combinations of the aforementioned sampling gears and methodologies, biologists have the ability to make best management decisions by evaluating the population using modeling (Allen and Gwinn 2013).

Despite the suite of sampling gears and methodologies available to biologists, a major pitfall of routine standardized sampling for inland moronids is collecting enough individuals to make inferences about the status of the population. In order to make sound estimates of population vital rates (e.g. growth), it is necessary to collect several hundred individuals (Coggins et al. 2013). Due to limited resources, routinely attaining a sample size of this magnitude using traditional methods is likely not realistic for any population of moronids in Arkansas. As a result, nontraditional methods can be employed, in addition to traditional methods, to collect sufficient data. One such nontraditional method is the utilization of recreational catch data (e.g. angler diaries). The use of angler diaries have been well documented (Sztramko et al. 1991; Kerr 1996; Cooke et al 2000; Wilson 2013) and evaluated (MacLennan 1996; Jiorle et al. 2016). According to Wilson (2013), the utilization of angler diaries was essential in tracking population trends of the Smith Mountain Lake Striped Bass fishery. More recently Jiorle et al. (2016) evaluated the efficacy of using recreational angler catches via a smartphone app and found that self-reported catch data were similar to those provided by the Marine Recreational Information Program. In Arkansas, the three featured Striped Bass fisheries (Beaver, Norfork, and Ouachita) are heavily fished by guides and their clients, which catch thousands of fish on an annual basis. Working with these guides provides a unique opportunity to collect substantial amounts of data on these fisheries, and make sound inferences about these populations.

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The following is a brief summary of sampling methods to evaluate Arkansas reservoir moronid populations.

Benthic gill nets
Should be used as they have proven to be an accurate method of sampling moronids in large standing warm water. Gill nets should meet the specifications of the standard core mesh gill net outlined in Standard Methods for Sampling North American Freshwater Fishes (Table A.1; Miranda and Boxrucker 2009). Gill nets should be set over night, covering two crepuscular periods. Nets should be set during the afternoon and fished the following morning. Sampling should occur when water temperatures are less than 20°C. Work with angler groups to collect catch data and supplemental fish for age and growth. Trip data (e.g. catch and harvest) and biological data (e.g. length and weight of all fish caught) originating from angler landings can be used to estimate some population vital rates (growth and mortality). In Arkansas waters, a large majority of the effort, catch and harvest of moronids comes from guided trips. Working with these relatively small and organized groups of anglers provides a unique opportunity to collect substantial amounts of fishery-dependent and biological data that can be used to evaluate and best manage some moronid populations.

Creel surveys.
When properly designed, creel surveys can be an effective tool to estimate effort, catch, and harvest of moronids in inland reservoirs (Schlechte et al. 2013). When general estimates of effort, catch, and harvest are desired, follow procedures outlined in the AGFC Creel Survey Standard Sampling Protocol (Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, unpublished manual, 2016). However, if more precise estimates of moronid effort, catch, and harvest are desired (e.g. use in population modeling), potentially at the expense of other target species or at significantly greater expense to the agency, alternative creel survey designs (Schlechte et al. 2013) may be necessary due to the small clusters of high catch and harvest that characterize moronid fisheries in Arkansas.

 More specific information on moronid sampling methods may be found in Appendix 1.

When evaluating Von Bertalanffy growth curve and total annual mortality, biologists should strive for a length sample of 500 individuals and an age sample of 10 individuals per 25-mm length group (Coggins et al. 2013).

Length-at-age 4 should be evaluated by first creating an age-length-key, using the age sample, and assigning ages to all individuals collected in the length sample following methods outlined by Ogle (2016).

 When designing a creel survey, biologists should strive to get estimates of catch statistics and effort with a relative standard error of less than 25% (Malvestuto 1996).

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Hatchery Production

For over thirty years the AGFC Fisheries Division has utilized Lake Ouachita for annual collection of broodstock to support its annual Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass spawning project. During April, Striped Bass tend to congregate in the South Fork of Lake Ouachita where biologists capture them with gill nets. Surface water temperature usually ranges 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit during this period. Nets are set prior to dark and run hourly thereafter until early morning hours or until the target number is met. Fisheries Division staff collect appropriate numbers of male and female Striped Bass, which are then shipped via fish truck to the Commission’s Andrew Hulsey Hatchery in Hot Springs for spawning. White Bass males (for Palmetto hybrid cross) are collected on the upper Ouachita River or upper Lake Hamilton tributaries (Owl Creek and Glazypeau Creek) in advance of the spawning project. The annual spawning project produces Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass fingerlings to meet statewide stocking requests.

Female Striped Bass egg maturation is evaluated upon arrival at the hatchery and those with most advanced egg maturity are injected with human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) at 0.1cc per 2 pounds body weight. Injections of other female broodstock are administered at interval to ensure egg release, fertilization, and incubation of eggs spread over spawning project period. Maturation of eggs is monitored at interval per respective tagged female to assure quality control. Most female stripers will spawn within 38 hours of initial HCG injection. Females are sedated with a MS-222 (tricaine methanesulfonate) bath for egg stage evaluation. Sedated fish are rolled “belly-up” and a glass capillary tube is inserted through the vent to catheter a sample of eggs from the lumen of an ovary. Development stage of the eggs is determined and next check time is defined. When eggs are ripe (ovulation) slight pressure applied to the abdomen will produce free-flowing eggs from the vent and the female is ready to spawn. The Hulsey Hatchery in Hot Springs uses the “wet” method, in which the eggs from a female and the milt from multiple males are simultaneously stripped into a tray with 1.5” inches of water while being stirred. Fertilization is achieved by gently stirring the eggs and sperm together for 1 ½ minutes using a squirrel hair brush to minimize damage to eggs. Water is then decanted from the eggs by carefully pouring out the excess while rinsing the eggs with water. The eggs are irrigated and decanted a second time followed by transfer into McDonald hatching jars for incubation. Jars are marked with the date and time of spawning, SB x SB (Striped Bass) or SB x WB (hybrids) for quality control. Initial egg volumes are measured after the eggs are transferred into jars. Water temperature is maintained at 63 degrees F for incubation of the eggs and subsequent hatching time is 48-52 hours. Dead eggs are carefully siphoned from remaining live eggs as fungus will develop on the dead eggs and spread to live eggs. Eggs are transferred to 500 gallon round fiberglass tanks just before hatching begins and allowed to hatch while circulating in the tanks. Round tanks are stocked at no more than 500,000 fry per tank. Fry will remain in these tanks for at least 4 days until their mouth parts are developed and they have absorbed their yolk sacs. Fry must be acclimated, approximately 45 minutes, prior to release into receiving ponds to adjust to change in water quality, especially temperature and pH. Fry are then stocked into prepared hatchery ponds where they will remain to until they obtain fingerling-size

Management Districts will request nearly 500,000 Striped Bass fingerlings annually to satisfy instate stocking requests. Annual requests for Hybrid Striped Bass fingerlings have historically been approximately 250,000. Fisheries Division’s decision to no longer promote “mixed” Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass fisheries starting in 2016, a temporary predator stocking moratorium for Greers Ferry Lake beginning in 2015, and a reduced stocking rate for Degray Lake, have decreased the annual Hybrid Striped Bass fingerling production goal to approximately 85,000.

The Andrew Hulsey hatchery generally bases fry production goals on a 25% return (fry to fingerling survival) for Striped Bass and a 30% return on Hybrid Striped Bass. The number of brood fish targeted annually to meet current fry production goals are 20 female Striped Bass (viable egg producers), 15 male Striped Bass, and 25 White Bass males.

Arkansas has utilized broodstock Striped Bass from Lake Ouachita for its spawning projects for over 30 years. Our culture system may need to consider utilization of sperm from other striper stocks to improve genetic integrity to reduce inbreeding depression.

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Stocking

Stocking is one of the most critical components of moronid management in Arkansas. Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass populations in Arkansas are maintained by stocking with the exception of a naturally reproducing Striped Bass population in the Arkansas River. Thus, target stockings rates should be sufficient to meet management objectives while also ensuring no detriment to other sport fish species populations. In the approved 2002 Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass Species Management Plan, stocking rates and frequencies were specified for each water body. There was no mechanism for the stocking rates or frequencies to be adjusted when components of the fishery changed (e.g. slower growth due to a decline in prey species numbers or an increase/decrease in angler utilization). For this edition of the Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass Species Management Plan, the species team has adopted a more adaptive stocking plan. Stocking rates and frequency of Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass will be specified in individual lake management plans. These rates for individual waterbodies will be determined based on the individual lake management goals, current growth data, angler utilization, pressure, and harvest derived from creel surveys. The inherent flexibility of the individual management plans allows for stocking rates and frequencies to be adjusted if any factor changes. When stocking rates and frequency are established, managers should consider multiple stocking locations to improve dispersion. Managers should consider stocking in highly productive areas with an abundant forage base (Sutton et al. 2013).

During the process of determining appropriate stocking rates for Striped Bass and/or Hybrid Striped Bass in a specific waterbody, mean length-at-age four should be compared to fisheries in the Southeastern United States (Appendix 2). If a population has a growth rate that equals or exceeds the 75% quartile, it should be considered a fast-growing population. A slow-growing population has a growth rate that equals or fails to exceed the 25% quartile. If growth rates fall between the 25% and 75% quartile, the population is exhibiting average growth. Combining the use of individual lake growth rates and Southeastern U.S. growth rates will prevent the use of a statewide general growth rate, as used in the previous edition, which might be unachievable or subpar for a particular waterbody. This will allow stocking rates to be tailored to individual lakes and not to average growth for the state. For populations with fast growth and/or high utilization, stocking rates could potentially be increased. On the other hand, populations with slow growth and/or low utilization could benefit from reduced stocking rates. Potential effects of Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass densities on other sportfish populations should also be considered when determining appropriate stocking rates. Listed in Table 2 are the annual stockings for the last five years for Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass fisheries in Arkansas.

Table 2.
Annual Stockings of Striped and Hybrid Striped Bass from 2013 – 2017 in fisheries around Arkansas.

Year Lake Species Number Requested Number Stocked 2017 Ouachita Striped Bass 160,000 160,000 2016 Ouachita Striped Bass 120,000 120,855 2015 Ouachita Striped Bass 120,000 121,795 2014 Ouachita Striped Bass 110,000 103,360 2013 Ouachita Striped Bass 120,000 85,913 2017 Beaver Striped Bass 200,000 200,540 2016 Beaver Striped Bass 200,000 201,860 2015 Beaver Striped Bass 200,000 200,075 2014 Beaver Striped Bass 200,000 166,945 2013 Beaver Striped Bass 200,000 179,262 2017 Norfork Striped Bass 155,000 157,072 2016 Norfork Striped Bass 155,000 155,505 2015 Norfork Striped Bass 154,000 154,055 2014 Norfork Striped Bass 154,000 134,865 2013 Norfork Striped Bass 200,000+ 170,679 2017 DeGray Hybrid Striped Bass 40,000 41,458 2016 DeGray Hybrid Striped Bass 67,000 55,10 2015 DeGray Hybrid Striped Bass 75,000 75,055 2014 DeGray Hybrid Striped Bass 80,000 82,820 2013 DeGray Hybrid Striped Bass 75,000 80,175 2017 Norfork Hybrid Striped Bass 44,000 45,395 2016 Norfork Hybrid Striped Bass 44,000 49,908 2015 Norfork Hybrid Striped Bass 44,000 48,280 2014 Norfork Hybrid Striped Bass 44,000 48,185 2013 Norfork Hybrid Striped Bass 44,000 92,215 2017 Greers Ferry Hybrid Striped Bass 0 0 2016 Greers Ferry Hybrid Striped Bass 0 0 2015 Greers Ferry Hybrid Striped Bass 0 0 2014 Greers Ferry Hybrid Striped Bass 150,000 151,090 2013 Greers Ferry Hybrid Striped Bass 150,000 153,710

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Evaluation of Prey Populations

The management of moronid fisheries in inland reservoirs requires a sound understanding of predator-prey interactions. Numerous diet studies have shown that Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass rely heavily on populations of clupeids (shads) as the primary source of forage (Slipke et al. 2001; Raborn et al. 2002; Walter et al. 2003; Rudershausen et al. 2005; Shepard and Maceina 2009; Miranda and Raborn 2013). In reservoirs where moronids are stocked, there are generally numerous other piscivorous sportfish species that also prey upon clupeids during certain times of the year (Shepard and Maceina 2009; Coutant 2013). This potential competition for clupeids has sparked controversy among anglers who perceive a decline in the condition and standing crop of other sportfish fisheries following the introduction of moronids (Churchill et al. 2002). Raborn et al. (2002) and Shepherd and Maceina (2009) both showed during separate studies that following a hypothetical removal of Striped Bass from two major reservoirs, there would not be a noticeable increase in the standing stock of individual predator species. However, Miranda and Raborn (2013) suggest that in extreme situations (e.g. total forage base failure), competition between moronids and other sportfish would likely be significant. A key consideration of managing stocked moronid populations in Arkansas is finding a balance between sustaining a moronid fishery and not threatening the forage base. Finding this balance requires an evaluation of the prey availability using either indirect or direct methods.

Condition and growth are two very common methods of indirectly evaluating prey availability (Blackwell et al. 2000; Neuman et al. 2012; Quist et al. 2012). Numerous studies have shown strong correlations between body condition (e.g. relative weight) and prey availability (Marwitz and Hubert 1997; Porath and Peters 1997; Paukert and Willis 2003; Paukert and Rogers 2004; Hartman and Margraf 2006). However, condition is an instantaneous measure and cannot be used to make inferences about environmental conditions (e.g. prey abundance) over the life time of an individual. A better representation of long term environmental conditions is growth. Evaluating growth at a population level can provide an integrated evaluation of prey availability. Although indirect methods of evaluating prey abundances can be very useful, these methods do not provide enough information to allow biologists to make predictions about how forage abundance will respond to alternative management strategies. Making predictions regarding the response of forage abundances requires methods of directly evaluating the forage base.

Fisheries Division utilized cove rotenone sampling for estimation of prey availability through Summer 2010 when this method was terminated. Environmental Protection Agency restrictions on the use of rotenone became too prohibitive for its utilization by AGFC. The data regarding shad estimates were not reliable due to the extreme spatial and temporal variability. Estimates were often simply based on chance depending on whether shad were in a particular cove prior to deployment of a block net. For many years, it was the only estimate Arkansas biologists had for noting trends in available shad biomass. Arkansas moved toward shad netting (variable panel mesh size monofilament nets) to assess shad populations in the absence of cove rotenone sampling. While biologists were able to collect shad with this gear, biologists agreed the variability in catch was too large. However, biologists were able to estimate size structure per species but not abundance. Fortunately, advances in hydroacoustic technology are proving to be a promising method of directly evaluating the abundance of pelagic forage species (Degan and Wilson 1995; Schael et al. 1995; Taylor et al. 2005). Although there is not currently a published methodology for evaluating pelagic prey abundances using hydroacoustics, there are several major universities currently working on developing such methodology. As soon as the proper equipment is procured, shad sampling using hydroacoustics will commence on Arkansas reservoirs.

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Angler Conflicts

Striped Bass anglers frequently want more Striped Bass stocked into reservoirs while anglers who seek black basses, crappies, and other species often see Striped Bass as predators of, or competition with, the species they desire (McMullin 2013). Arkansas fisheries are no exception to this controversy as district fisheries biologists frequently receive complaints from black bass and crappie anglers opposed to agency stocking programs for Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass.

Hunt and Ditton (2002) stated that fisheries managers frequently deal with stakeholder groups that have competing interests for preferred species management. In reservoirs containing Striped Bass, conflicts among angler groups have been common and widespread (Churchill et al. 2002). Such a controversy emerged on Lake Ouachita which led to the development of the Lake Ouachita Fisheries Management Plan in 2007. Black bass anglers felt the fishery was depleted of black basses and too much emphasis had been placed on the Striped Bass stocking program. In 2004 the Arkansas Black Bass Coalition (ABBC) formed to petition the AGFC and lobbied elected officials and Governor-appointed Commissioners to make changes they deemed necessary. Feeling their rights had been infringed, area Striped Bass anglers later formed the Lake Ouachita Striped Bass Association (LOSBA) in 2016 so their collective voice would be heard. Similar conflicts have arisen at Norfork, DeGray, and Greers Ferry Lakes over the years, but anglers at those lakes have not organized in the same manner as those at Lake Ouachita.

Magill (1988) encouraged managers of reservoirs with Striped Bass to employ utilization of meetings with stakeholders to build more constructive relationships, thus increasing the probability of success when attempting to resolve conflict over management decisions. This process has been utilized by AGFC when establishing or updating reservoir management plans. A third party facilitator was used during the controversial public meetings leading to development of the 2007 Lake Ouachita Fisheries Management Plan.

Fisheries District 8 used the Lake Ouachita nursery pond for stocking of Striped Bass starting in 1973. The pond was stocked with fry which were allowed to grow to fingerling-size before draining the fish crop directly into the lake. The pond was used about every third year for this purpose until the controversy mentioned above materialized in the early 2000’s. Based on facilitated public meeting input, the nursery pond was removed from Striped Bass production after the 2003 crop. Currently, Lake Ouachita Striped Bass fingerling stockings are from Andrew Hulsey Hatchery pond production and made via fish truck to provide more accurate stocking numbers. Beaver Lake and Lake Norfork are both stocked via truck stocking and not through their respective nursery ponds.

AGFC contracted The Human Dimensions Laboratory in the Mississippi State University Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Aquaculture (Hunt and Westlake, 2017) to evaluate statewide licensed angler participation patterns and attitudes toward management issues. Postsurvey analysis included isolation of counties surrounding Arkansas Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass fisheries to determine angler first species choice. Less than 4% of these anglers indicated Striped Bass, Hybrid Striped Bass, or White Bass were their first choice; whereas on a statewide basis < 1% prefer to target moronid species. Statewide data indicate: Black basses (36%), crappie (24%), and catfish (21%) are much more commonly preferred species.

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Research Needs

Additional growth data will need to be collected to steer our individual lake management strategies for Arkansas Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass fisheries. Growth data trends, creel survey results, and stakeholder input will be considered when establishing stocking rates per individual lake.

Total annual mortality estimates are needed for all Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass fisheries in regards to establishment of harvest restrictions. When maximum mortality thresholds (caps) are approached, that may signal the need to manage the population through harvest restriction to lower mortality (Schultz et al. 2013).

AGFC Fisheries Division is moving to acquire hydroacoustic equipment.
Arkansas biologists will adopt and then refine hydroacoustic prey evaluations for Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass fisheries.
Initial assessments will focus on baseline data collection, later assessing trends in shad abundance in moronid fisheries.
Hightower et al. (2013) indicated hydroacoustics surveys have proven valuable for estimating reservoir forage fish abundance.
Acoustics equipment will replace earlier shad assessment strategies (cove rotenone, gill-netting).

Collier et al. (2013) stated that state agencies have been lax in evaluating population dynamics of Hybrid Striped Bass.
AGFC is taking strides to enhance our assessment of Hybrid Striped Bass fisheries.
A four-year study of DeGray Lake Hybrid Striped Bass began 2017.
The study is being conducted under agency contract with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Researchers will work to define
(1) fishing and natural mortality
(2) recruitment of stocked fingerlings
(3) diet and habitat overlap with Largemouth Bass
(4) seasonal movement
(5) bioenergetics.

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Management Plan Goals, Objectives, and Strategies

Goal:

We will utilize an adaptive management strategy to manage moronid fisheries in the state using the best data available for decision making, including current and historical standardized sampling data, the scientific body of literature, and this management plan.

Objective 1.
Develop and utilize standard sampling protocols based on the latest science, in conjunction with
AFS standard protocols where possible, to ensure consistent data collection statewide.

A. Utilize standardized sampling methods for evaluating moronid populations found in Appendix 1 of this plan.
B. Procure standardized equipment for each district that manages moronid populations (e.g. gillnets, low-speed saws, etc.).
C. Conduct a moronid age and growth workshop to ensure districts with major moronid fisheries use standard aging techniques and equipment.
D. Districts will develop and implement Fishery Management Plans to guide adaptive moronid management on individual water bodies.
      1. Districts with major moronid fisheries should sample these fisheries at least once every three years and evaluate mean length at age-4.
E. Habitat on our moronid fisheries should be evaluated using dissolved oxygen and temperature profile data collected by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (standardized quarterly samples).

Objective 2.
Determine the desires and attitudes of
moronid anglers toward management strategies

A. Conduct creel surveys on waterbodies with major moronid fisheries to determine angler values towards moronid management.
        1. Angler values will be considered when developing moronid management goals in fishery management plans.

B. Routinely meet with moronid angler groups.
        1. Discuss sampling results as well as growth and mortality evaluation.
        2. Discuss avenues for incorporating anglers into management practices (e.g. data collection).

Objective 3.
Use population characteristics to categorize moronid fisheries.

A. Evaluate growth and mortality rates for each major moronid fishery.
B. Based on growth rate, moronid fisheries should be classified into one of three growth categories.
These are given in Appendix 2.
     1. Stocking rates listed in individual fishery management plans should be adjusted to achieve a specific growth category while balancing angler values and forage availability.

Objective 4.
Maintain the genetic diversity of stocked moronid populations.

A. Assess the genetic diversity of broodstock source Striped Bass.
B. Introduce genetic diversity to reduce inbreeding coefficient and inbreeding depression.
    1. Utilize sperm from other states’ Striped Bass populations to introduce genetic diversity into production of fingerling Striped Bass.

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Literature Cited

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MacLennan, D. 1996. Changes in the Muskellunge fishery and population of Lake St. Clair after an increase in the minimum size limit. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Southern Region, Science and Technology Transfer Unit Workshop Proceedings WP-007, Kemptville, Ontario, Canada.

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McMullin, S.L. 2013. Managing user conflicts on reservoirs supporting Striped Bass or Hybrid Striped Bass fisheries. American Fisheries Society Symposium 80:521–530.

McRae, B. J., J. S. Bulak, B. E. Taylor, and C. T. Waters. 2013. Evaluation of the use of gill nets for monitoring reservoir Striped Bass populations. Pages 263–278 in J. S. Bulak, C. C. Coutant, and J. A. Rice, editors. Biology and management of inland Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass. American Fisheries Society, Symposium 80, Bethesda, Maryland.

Miranda, L. E., and S. W. Raborn. 2013. Interactions between Striped Bass and other game fish in reservoirs. Pages 501–519 in J. S. Bulak, C. C. Coutant, and J. A. Rice, editors. Biology and management of inland Striped Bass and Hybrid Striped Bass. American Fisheries Society, Symposium 80, Bethesda, Maryland.

Miranda L. E., and J. Boxrucker. 2009. Warmwater Fish in Large Standing Waters. Pages 29–42 in S. A. Bonar, W. A. Hubert, and D. W. Willis, editors. Standard methods for sampling North American freshwater fishes. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, Maryland.

Miranda, L. E., M. T. Driscoll, and S. W. Raborn. 1998. Competitive Interactions between Striped Bass and other freshwater predators. Mississippi Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Mississippi State University.

Neuman, R. M., C. S. Guy, and D. W. Willis. 2012. Length, weight and associated indices. Pages 637–676 in A. V. Zale, D. L. Parrish, and T. M. Sutton, editors. Fisheries techniques 3rd edition. American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, Maryland.

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Rudershausen, P. J., J. E. Tuomikoski, J. A. Buckel and J. E. Hightower. 2005. Prey selectivity and diet of Striped Bass in western Albemarle Sound, North Carolina. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 134(5):1059–1074.

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Appendix 1.
Standard sampling methods for Striped Bass, Hybrid Striped Bass, and White Bass in Arkansas Waters

Preferred Method-
Benthic gill nets should be used as they have proven to be an accurate method of sampling moronids in large standing warmwater (Miranda and Boxrucker 2009). Additionally, gill nets are frequently used by state and federal fish and wildlife agencies throughout the southeastern United States to evaluate moronid populations (McRae et al 2013).

Gear Specifications-
Gill nets should meet the specifications of the standard core mesh gill net outlined in Standard Methods for Sampling North American Freshwater Fishes (Table A.1; Miranda and Boxrucker 2009). Each net should be constructed from clear, uncolored, nylon monofilament. The standard core mesh gill net consists of eight panels. Each panel is comprised of either 19, 25, 32, 38, 44, 51, 57, or 64 mm bar mesh with a hanging ratio of 0.5 for all mesh sizes. As necessary for sampling larger bodied fish (>750 mm, TL) three additional panels (76, 89, and 102 mm) should be added on to each net (McRea et al. 2009, Miranda and Boxrucker 2009). In order to avoid sampling biases associated with leading, mesh panels should be connected in a random order (Rudstam et al. 1984). Each panel should be 1.8 m tall 3.1 m long. To sample larger waters, multiple nets can be tied together to increase sampling efficiency. The nylon monofilament mesh diameter and twine used to connect nets will vary depending on mesh size (Table A.1). The float line should have a foam core and the lead line should have a lead core. It is critical that data from core meshes and add-on meshes be recorded separately to allow comparisons with nets that do not contain add-on meshes.

Effort-
Gill nets should be set over night, covering two crepuscular periods. Nets should be set during the afternoon and retrieved the following morning. Catch per effort is expressed as catch per-net-night divided by the number of nets tied together. When evaluating size structure biologists should strive for a sample size of 300–400 fish (Vokoun et al. 2001). When evaluating population vital rates (growth and mortality) Biologists should strive for a sample size of 500 individuals (Coggins et al. 2013). The required number of net nights will be dependent on sampling variability.

Sampling Considerations-
Nets should be set along the bottom, perpendicular to the bank in depths of 3-8 m. Steeply sloping bottoms should be avoided. Sampling should occur when water temperatures are less than 20° C (Colvin 2002).

Site Selection-
Nets should be set using the “predator” approach and set in areas with high densities of target species.

Data Collection-
Length (total length- mm), weight (grams), and mesh size the fish was captured in should be recorded. When evaluating growth and mortality, ten fish per 25-mm length group should be retained for aging. Before aging, otoliths should be thinly sectioned according to the Cross Sectioning method outlined in the AGFC Procedures for Age Determination. Sampling should result in estimates of total annual  and length frequency. mortality (A), asymptotic length (∞), Brody growth coefficient (), age at length zero (0), and weight-length parameters and . Data analysis should include, at a minimum, relative abundance (CPE)

Additional methods-
Work with angler groups to collect catch data and supplemental fish for age and growth. Numerous studies have shown the utility of using angler reported catches and trip information in management (Ebbers 1987; Sztramko 1991; MacLennan 1996; Cook et al. 2000; Wilson 2013; Jiorle et al. 2016). Trip data (e.g. catch and harvest) and biological data (e.g. length and weight of all fish caught) originating from angler landings can be used to estimate some population vital rates (growth and mortality). In Arkansas waters, a large majority of the effort, catch and harvest of moronids comes from guided trips. Working with these relatively small and organized groups of anglers provides a unique opportunity to collect substantial amounts of fishery-dependent and biological data that can be used to evaluate and best manage some moronid populations. Gear Specifications- Utilize smartphone application or paper diary that guides can use to record basic trip and biological data. Establish a drop off location where guides can deposit subsamples of harvested moronids that biologists can later use to evaluate length at age. Data Collection- Length (total length- inches) and species should be recorded. Additionally, trip length, number of anglers present in the party, number of hooks used, and waterbody fished should also be recorded. When evaluating growth and mortality, ten fish per 25-mm length group should be retained for aging. Before aging, otoliths should be thinly sectioned according to the Cross Sectioning method outlined in the AGFC Procedures for Age Determination (Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, unpublished manual, 2016). Sampling should result in estimates of total annual mortality (A), asymptotic average maximum length (∞), Brody growth coefficient (),  theoretical age at length zero (0), and weight-length parameters and . Data analysis should include, at a minimum, length frequency, growth rate, and total annual mortality.

Gear Specifications-
Utilize smartphone application or paper diary that guides can use to record basic trip and biological data. Establish a drop off location where guides can deposit subsamples of harvested moronids that biologists can later use to evaluate length at age.

Data Collection-
Length (total length- inches) and species should be recorded. Additionally, trip length, number of anglers present in the party, number of hooks used, and waterbody fished should also be recorded. When evaluating growth and mortality, ten fish per 25-mm length group should be retained for aging. Before aging, otoliths should be thinly sectioned according to the Cross Sectioning method outlined in the AGFC Procedures for Age Determination (Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, unpublished manual, 2016). Sampling should result in estimates of total annual mortality (A), asymptotic average maximum length (∞), Brody growth coefficient (), theoretical age at length zero (0), and weight-length parameters and . Data analysis should include, at a minimum, length frequency, growth rate, and total annual mortality.

Additional method- Creel surveys.
When properly designed, creel surveys can be an effective tool to estimate effort, catch, and harvest of moronids in inland reservoirs (Schlechte et al. 2013). Before a creel survey begins, it is important to set specific objectives and determine the necessary level of precision for the desired measurements (Malvestuto 1996). When general estimates of effort, catch, and harvest are desired, follow procedures outlined in the AGFC Creel Survey Standard Sampling Protocol (Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, unpublished manual, 2016). However, if more precise estimates of moronid effort, catch, and harvest are desired (e.g. use in population modeling), potentially at the expense of other target species or at significantly greater expense to the agency, alternative creel survey designs (Schlechte et al. 2013) may be necessary due to the small clusters of high catch and harvest that characterize moronid fisheries in Arkansas.

Data Collection-
Collected data should include at a minimum: number of fish released, length (TL, mm), weight (g) and number of all fish harvested, total time fishing, number of anglers in the party, and number of hooks used at a time. Depending on the objective of the creel survey, data analysis should include at a minimum estimates of catch, harvest, and effort.

Table A.1
North American standardized core gill net (Bonar et al. 2009). Refer to Appendix 1 for add-on mesh sizes and increasing net lengths.

Feature Description Net Type Monofilament, 8-panel, sinking. Panel Size 3.1 m (10 ft) long X 1.8 (6 ft) deep (Benthic) or 6 m (20 ft) deep (Pelagic). Mesh bar Size 19, 25, 32, 38, 44, 51, 57, 64-mm (0.75, 1.00, 1.25, 1.50, 1.75, 2.00, 2.25, 2.5 in). Monofilament diameters corresponding to mesh sizes above 0.28, 0.28, 0.28, 0.33, 0.33, 0.33, 0.40, 0.40-mm (0.011, 0.011, 0.011, 0.013, 0.013, 0.013, 0.016, 0.016 in). Mesh Order 38, 57, 25, 44, 19, 64, 32, 51 mm (1.50, 2.25, 1.00, 1.75, 0.75, 2.50, 1.25, 2.00) in Hanging ratio 0.5. Soak Time Set late afternoon and retrieved the following morning (two crepuscular periods). Catch per effort Fish per net-night.

Appendix 2.

Growth categories for Striped and Hybrid Striped Bass Growth rate categories are based on the 25th, 50th, and 75th quartile for length at age (mm) for Striped Bass growth in 15 southeastern U.S. reservoirs (Wilson et al. 2013) and Hybrid Striped Bass in 19 southeastern U.S. reservoirs (Schultz et al. 2013). Striped Bass Growth Rate Category Length (mm) at age 1 2 3 4 5 6 Low growth potential 323 451 525 558 591 618 Moderate growth potential 342 471 546 600 641 675 High growth potential 349 485 568 630 686 726 Hybrid Striped Bass Growth Rate Category Length (mm) at age 1 2 3 4 5 6 Low growth potential 331 439 512 558 592 613 Moderate growth potential 357 459 524 567 595 615 High growth potential 387 488 547 584 609 633

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