An Historical Review of the
Fish and Wildlife Resources of the
San Francisco Bay Area
by John E. Skinner
WATER PROJECTS BRANCH REPORT No. 1
Page 4 of 6
Striped Bass Pages 71 - 83
Striped Bass Life History Notes
Striped bass is a relatively long lived species and the
population therefore is made up of fish of many ages,
as compared to salmon, for instance, which generally
have a 3 to 5 year life cycle. Stripers may live as long
as 20 years or more.
Time of Run. The adults begin to enter Carquinez
Strait from the Bay and ocean about August; the run
usually peaks in October, and tapers off rather abruptly.
They spread out over the entire Delta for the winter
season. Angling is excellent during October and November
throughout the Delta and as far north as the
Feather River. With decreasing water temperatures,
angling drops off to a very low point in January and
Spawning Conditions. About March or April the
fish become active again to provide a short period of
good angling. Potential spawners move up into the
fresh water of the sloughs and rivers of the Delta
system and begin to spawn in March or April. Spawning
usually reaches a peak in May depending on water
temperatures, and continues through most of June.
Temperature: Water temperature appears to exert
an important influence on the time at which striped
bass spawn. Raney (1952) summarizing the data of
several investigators lists temperatures from 54° F. to
71° F. as being the known range at which they have
been observed spawning. Scofield, working with this
species here in California, found sperm viable at a
temperature ranging from freezing to 90° F. He found
the sperm most active at 68° F., sluggish below 42° F.
and died at 100-110° F. Spermatazoa were found to
remain active after 24 hours between 54 and 68 degrees
in a 0.05 percent salt solution. He found that the
sperm were active for about 3 minutes in water, after
which time their swimming motion ceased.
In the Delta, spawning generally does not begin until
temperatures reach 59° or 60° F. The optimum temperature
appears to be 64 to 68 degrees.
Salinity: Spawning occurs in essentially fresh water.
Larval bass and eggs are found in brackish water, but
evidence has not yet been uncovered to show that
spawning actually takes place in brackish water.
Woodhull (1947) states that in the area which he observed
them spawning (San Joaquin River), the salinity
(in terms of chlorides) varied from 1 to 7 parts of
chlorine per 100,000 of water.
Spawning Activities. Several authors have described
the activities involved in the spawning process.
Woodhull (op. cit.) observed them on the San Joaquin
River in the vicinity of Venice Island. According to
his description innumerable groups of fish gathered at
the surface of the water for a distance of 3 miles along
the river on a flood tide. The fish began to roll over
on their sides at a 45 degree angle near the surface and
splashed about with their caudal fins. This activity
continued for several hours. During the process he
used a plankton net to collect eggs not yet water
hardened to corroborate the fact that the fish were
spawning. Morgan and Gerlach (1950) observed a
similar situation in the Coos River, Oregon.
Fecundity. Several investigators have estimated the
egg production of female striped bass. The number is
correlated with the size of the fish and in general, it
may be said that this species is extremely prolific. This
phase of their life history has not been specifically explored
for California striped bass, therefore, the data
presented are from observations elsewhere. Merriman
(1941) found that the number of eggs ranged from
11,000 to 1,215,000 with the majority of fish yielding
180,000 to 700,000 each. Jackson and Tiller (1952)
found the number to vary from 68,000 in a 4 year old
fish weighing 4.4 pounds to 4,536,000 in a 14 year old
fish weighing 35 pounds. Morgan and Gerlach (op.
cit.) found that Coos Bay striped bass produced about
1 million eggs when they reached 10 pounds and that
this figure reached almost 5 million for fish weighing
between 30 and 50 pounds.
Spawning Locations. In California a few striped
bass spawn in the larger coastal rivers, the Russian
River particularly, and formerly the Salinas River. A
few apparently persist in Elkhorn Slough, which enters
Monterey Bay, and spawn there also. The major
tributaries to San Francisco Bay are the principal
spawning grounds, however, particularly those above
Antioch and Collinsville.
Strong currents appear to be absolutely necessary
for the development of striped bass eggs. They have
not been found in stagnant water, nor have the adults
been observed spawning under lacustrine conditions.
The tidal action in the Delta seems to be particularly
Since 1946, a considerable amount of effort has been
expended to determine spawning locations. Sampling
with plankton nets for eggs has indicated the San
Joaquin River below Stockton and many of the sloughs
in that portion of the Delta to be the major spawning
Eggs were found in greatest abundance in an area
extending upstream from the Antioch Bridge to
Venice Island and Salmon Slough. The Old River and
Middle River systems are perhaps the next most important
followed by the Sacramento River system, the
San Joaquin River above Salmon Slough and the
Mokelumne River. These can be considered the most
important year after year, but conditions from year
to year may change the sequence. In wet years, for
example, spawning may occur below Pittsburg.
Striped bass were formerly reported to spawn in
the Napa River. A special trip to collect eggs there
during 1957 was unsuccessful, although large, ripe fish
were known to be present in the river just previous to
the sampling period.
Embryology. The eggs of this species are small (16
to the inch) and transparent at the time of expulsion,
but they enlarge to about twice this size upon water
hardening. They are very similar to shad eggs, and
because both species spawn in the same places and at
the same time, the two are easily confused. Striped
bass eggs, however, can usually be differentiated by a
relatively large oil globule which is not so apparent
in shad eggs. Once the eggs are spawned, they are
left to drift freely with the currents: Because of the
oil globule, they are only slightly heavier than water
and are kept suspended by the slightest current. The
eggs develop while thus suspended. On the San Joaquin
side of the Delta, they are flushed back and
forth by the currents and their movement downstream
is somewhat restricted. The opposite situation exists
in the Sacramento River. Eggs spawned as far up as
the Feather River or beyond are moved down into
the Delta rather rapidly until they reach the Rio Vista
area where they come under the oscillating influence
of the tides.
The incubation period is influenced by temperature,
higher temperatures being conducive to faster hatching.
The known range has varied from 74 hours at
58° F. to 30 hours at 72° F. Hatching occurs in about
48 hours at 67° F. In our waters the temperature is
usually in the vicinity of 62 to 68 degrees and the
normal incubation period from 48 to 60 hours.
The larvae at hatching are about 0.1-0.2 inch
(3-5mm.) in length. They subsist on the yolk material
for the first 200 hours while being carried by
currents. If they encounter still water, the larvae may
settle to the bottom and die. According to Pearson
(1938), if food is not available by the time they reach
6mm. (about 0.25 inches), they soon begin to die. This
is perhaps the most critical stage in the life history of
this species. At this small size they are almost completely
at the mercy of the tides and predators.
Postlarval Stage. A great deal of work has been
done in the Bay and Delta in sampling the abundance
and distribution of small fry. Calhoun and Woodhull
(1948), Calhoun, Woodhull and Johnson (1950), Calhoun
(1953), Skinner (1955), Hatton (1940), Hatton
and Clark (1942), and Erkkila et al. (1950), have all
investigated the subject, chiefly because of the presence
of millions of these small fish in the vicinity of
large industrial and irrigation diversions and sewage
and industrial waste discharges; Skinner and later
Chadwick (unpublished data) have continued the
Surveys have been conducted almost annually since
1946 to obtain a measure of the distribution and
abundance of bass fry over the Bay and Delta Area
where they are widely distributed. Calhoun (1953)
in conjunction with personnel from the U. S. Fish and
Wildlife Service divided the entire area into 67 different
sections, sampled each to obtain the density of
fry per thousand cubic feet of water strained, and projected
the result to the approximate volume of water
within each section. They derived an estimate of 35
million fry during 'mid-July of 1951 and a second
estimate of 20 million for late July.
Fry were found in greatest abundance in Honker,
Grizzly and Suisun bays and in the main channels of
the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers in the Delta,
particularly heavy concentrations were found in
Honker Bay and in the San Joaquin River between
Pittsburg and Antioch.
The surveys since 1951 have not been as extensive
as in that year, but they indicate that a similar distributional
pattern has prevailed each year since. Between
1953 and 1956 the surveys were conducted
under identical conditions to obtain continuity for
year-to-year comparisons of fry abundance. Five stations
were selected and sampled on minus tides, when
the fry reached a mean length of one inch in the
vicinity of Antioch.
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Calhoun, A. J.
1949 California Striped Bass Catch Records From the Party
Boat Fishery; 1938-1948. California Fish and Game,
Vol. 35, No. 4, pp. 211-253.
1950 California Angling Catch Records from Postal Card
Surveys: 1936-1948 With an Evaluation of Postal Card
Non-response. California Fish and Game, Vol. 36, No.
3, pp. 177-233.
1951 California State-Wide Angling Catch Estimates for
1949. California Fish and Game, Vol. 37, No. 1, pp.
1952 Annual Migrations of California Striped Bass. California
Fish and Game, Vol. 38, No. 3, pp. 391-403.
1953a. State-Wide California Angling Estimates for 1951. California
Fish and Game, Vol. 39, No. 1, pp. 103-113.
1953b. Distribution of Striped Bass Fry in Relation to Major
Water Diversions. California Fish and Game, Vol. 39,
No. 3, pp. 279-299.
1957 Striped Bass Fishing Map (Revised by John E. Skinner).
California Department of Fish and Game.
Calhoun, A. J., and John E. Skinner
1954 Field Tests of Stainless Steel and Tentalum Wire with
Disk Tags on Striped Bass. California Fish and Game,
Vol. 40, No. 3, pp. 323-328.
Calhoun, A. J., and C. A. Woodhull
1948 Progress Report on Studies of Striped Bass Reproduction
in Relation to the Central Valley Project. California
Fish and Game, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 171-187.
1950 Striped Bass Reproduction in the Sacramento River
System in 1948. California Fish and Game, Vol. 36, No.
2, pp. 135-145.
Clark, G. H.
1929 Sacramento-San Joaquin Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)
Fishery of California. California Fish and
Game, Fish Bulletin No. 17.
1932 The Striped Bass Supply of California, Past and Present
California Fish and Game, Vol. 18, No. 4, pp.
1933 Fluctuations in the Abundance of Striped Bass (Roccus
lineatus) in California. California Department of Fish
and Game, Fish Bulletin No. 39.
1934 Tagging of Striped Bass. California Fish and Game,
Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 14-19.
1936 A Second Report on Striped Bass Tagging. California
Fish and Game, Vol. 22, No. 4, pp. 272-283.
1938 Weight and Age Determination of Striped Bass. California
Fish and Game, Vol. 24, No. 2, pp. 176-177.
Cole, Charles E.
1930 Angling for Striped Bass. California Fish and Game,
Vol. 16, No. 4, pp. 286-290.
Craig, J. A.
1928 The Striped Bass Supply of California. California
Fish and Game, Vol. 14, No. 4, pp. 265-272.
1930 An Analysis of the Catch Statistics of the Striped Bass
(Roccus lineatus) Fishery of California. California
Department of Fish and Game, Fish Bulletin No. 24.
Hatton, S. Ross
1940. Progress Report on the Central Valley Fisheries Investigations,
1939. California Fish and Game, Vol.
26, No. 4, pp. 334-373.
Jackson, H. W. and R. E. Tiller
1952 Preliminary observations on spawning potential in
striped bass (Roccus saxatilis). Maryland Dept. Res.
and Ed., Pub. 93, pp. 1-6.
Johnson, W. C, and A. J. Calhoun
1952 Food Habits of California Striped Bass. California
Fish and Game, Vol. 38, No. 4, pp. 531-533.
Morgan, Alfred R. and Arthur R. Gerlach
1950 Striped Bass Studies on Coos Bay, Oregon in 1949 and
1950. Oregon Fish Commission, Contribution No. 14.
Pearson, John C.
1938 The Life History of the Striped Bass or Rockfish,
(Roccus saxatilis) (Walbaum). U. S. Department of
Commerce Bureau of Fisheries, Vol. XLIX, Bulletin
Raney, Edward C, Ernest F. Tresselt, Edgar H. Hollis, V. D.
Vladykov and D. H. Wallace
1952 The Striped Bass (Roccus saxatilis). Bulletin of the
Bingham Oceanographic Collection, Vol. 14, Article 1.
Scofield, N. B.
1910 Notes on striped bass in California. Biennial Report,
Calif. Board of Fish and Game Commissioners for
1909-1910, pp. 104-109.
1936 Food of the Striped Bass. California Fish and Game,
Vol. 22, No. 4, pp. 261-270.
Skinner, John E.
1955a. California State-Wide Angling Estimates for 1953.
California Fish and Game, Vol. 41, No. 1, pp. 19-32.
1955b. Observations on the Shad Gill Net Fishery in 1954.
California Department of Fish and Game, Inland Fisheries
Branch, Administrative Report 55-3.
1957a. Incidental losses of Striped Bass in the Sacramento
River Gill Net Fisheries for Shad and Salmon. California
Department of Fish and Game, Inland Fisheries
Branch, Administrative Report 57-2.
1957b. Status of the Striped Bass—Sturgeon Study and Suggestions
for its Future. California Department of Fish
Fish and Game, Inland Fisheries Branch, Administrative
Report No. 57-11.
Smith, Hugh M.
1895 The Striped Bass History and Results of Introduction.
U. S. Fish Commission Bulletin, Vol. 15, pp. 449-458.
1947 Spawning Habits of the Striped Bass (Roccus saxatilis)
in California Waters. California Fish and Game,
Vol. 33, No. 2, pp. 97-101
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