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Are Striped Bass Next to Go? 2021 Update

The prognosis for Bay-Delta and California striped bass could not be much worse. Numbers of stripers salvaged at the south Delta pumping plants in 2021 are down to or below 2014-2015 levels.1 Like many other species that spend all or part of their lives in the Delta, striped bass are on a downward spiral. Good water years are not providing enough population rebound to offset devastating lack of recruitment in dry year sequences.

In my report on the status of striped bass in 2016, stripers had suffered terribly in four years of drought (2012-2015). By 2019, the prognosis was still not good after a sequence of wetter water years (2016-2019) that were below normal, wet, below normal and wet.

Now, the summer-to-fall recruitment relationship (Figure 1), with its strong relationship between the summer index and fall recruitment, shows that dry year 2020 recruitment was as low as during the critically dry drought years 2014 and 2015. In the critically dry drought year 2021, late spring net catches are at historic lows.2 If the summer-to-fall recruitment relationship holds in 2021, striped bass are circling the drain as the next fish species to be lost in the collapsing Bay-Delta ecosystem.

Figure 1. Striped bass Fall Midwater Trawl Survey Index (log10[index+1]) versus prior Summer Townet Index (log10). Select years labeled, with color of number showing year type: blue=wet, green=normal, and red=critically dry.