Study confirms year-round Squibnocket stripers

After an unusual find, researchers are wondering whether striped bass spawn in the pond.



Year-round Vineyarders can welcome some newly confirmed neighbors — 19 striped bass in the Squibnocket/Menemsha pond complex.

In an effort to better understand the habitat of one of the Island’s faltering herring populations, the Natural Resources Department of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) surgically inserted probes last fall into 20 of the ponds’ striped bass.

By April, all but one of the tagged fish remained — a lone migrator beelined, or bass-lined, to Block Island.

The striped bass in the pond complex, local wildlife officials say, are not to blame for the herrings’ numbers. Offshore trawlers, they say, are the overwhelming cause. But bass are nonetheless a predatory pressure on herring, and the fact that a significant population remains year-round informs further questions about the area.

Typically, striped bass are a migratory species. They normally leave the Northeast U.S. in fall for warmer Southeastern waters. And though anglers have long kept to themselves where to find fish that don’t make the trip, this study’s contribution is confirming a year-round striper population by continuously monitoring individuals.

“[This bass group] is unique in that it’s not a holdover in a great pond, where fish get entrapped. These fish have complete open access anytime they choose. Because of the semitidal system, it’s not as though they are unaware of where the exit might be,” said Andrew Jacobs, the natural resource department’s laboratory manager and environmental technician.

By tracking tagged fish through the Atlantic Cooperative Telemetry Network, a collection of receivers all along the East Coast, the researchers saw the fish remain through winter, and now know that eight of the 19 since spring have left Herring Creek in the complex for the Menemsha Pond system.

The natural resources department will be right back at Herring Creek this fall to tag more bass, as will their study partners from the Striped Bass Magic program at the University of Chicago’s Marine Biological Laboratory. Now that year-round stripers are confirmed, phase two of the study will look at why they remained through winter.

The answer could lie in the bass themselves, the pond environment, or a combination of reasons. “There might be an adaptive behavior [in the bass], so they don’t use as much energy from year to year and migrate South and back up,” Jacobs posed.

“The food source in the winter certainly isn’t abundant,” he also acknowledged.

Jacobs also wondered whether a schooling technique influenced the fish, in which some bass stayed put and others follow suit.

For Scott Bennet of Striped Bass Magic, the pond complex’s bass could help explain the behavior of stripers where he works in Woods Hole, where a group of well-fed stripers still chooses to migrate. He is also interested in bass behavior at the time of the herring spawn in spring.

The study could also help clarify animal behavior more generally, Bennett said: “With the array we plan to put in place this year, hopefully we get a really good, robust study of their seasonal behaviors, and how things like circadian rhythms might vary between migratory animals and nonmigratory, overwintering individuals.”

Another key question is whether striped bass are spawning in the complex; only adult bass were tagged in fall 2023. “We don’t know if they are spawning in Squibnocket, or if they’re successfully spawning or not,” said Bret Stearns, the department’s indirect services administrator.

Bennett said that fish age is a factor here — 4-year-old bass could have traveled from Chesapeake Bay, but an individual only 1 year old is part of a local population.

Researchers will pursue real answers in phase two of their study.

Stearns said phase two will track more and younger fish than before, and have a greater geographical scope. Using more signal receivers in this phase will also enable tracking fish depth and surrounding temperatures, instead of just their presence or absence. Phase two, said the department, will involve funding they secured from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. According to Bennett, future research could also involve analyzing fish gut contents to understand predator-prey relationships.

The natural resources department is also working to restore the pond in partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers, with whom they are analyzing pond hydrodynamics, sea level rise, and options in the event of the ocean breaching the complex.

“We are trying to understand what the impacts would be,” Stearns said. “We look at it in two ways — what can be looked at as a management tool, and, two, scenarios. What if a hurricane breaches? What impacts could it have on the environment? This is strategic preparation.”

By studying the Squibnocket-Menemsha ecosystem, Jacobs hopes that they can help the fishery recover Island-wide. “That is the heart of all this … By restoring herring, we restore striped bass, then recreational people have better access to fish in our waters,” he said. “You reproduce a healthy ecosystem by restoring the bottom of the food chain.”


  1. The particular issue I raise may not necessarily effect the bass lurking in the Menemsha Pond system.

    But I wonder when regulations will catch up with our relatively new LED technology. Prior to LEDs I’m guessing it was hard, if not impossible for trawlers & fishing boats to power super bright lights. Squid like moths are attracted to & become dazed by the light. So it’s very easy & efficient to scoop them up. I imagine the catch is huge. I watch probably half a dozen small fishing boats equipped with bright lights in the channel, but what really alarms me are the trawlers. I’m not sure I’ve spotted one yet this year, but last year they came in to the outer outer harbor area of Edgartown. We are talking about such extremely bright light; I could just about read a book by the lights that they use 1/2 -1 mile off shore. They appear night after night for about 5-6 nights. Then they leave. Last year there were at least 3 large trawlers out there & up to 5. My hunch is that they remain in a general area for as long as they are catching plenty but move on when the catch drops.

    Stripers, to a large degree, depend on plentiful squid. Our modern commercial fishing practices & equipment are so efficient it seems to me there is a very real danger of over-fishing squid.

    Is it unfair to suggest this isn’t too dissimilar to jacking a deer with your headlights? In case you didn’t know, jacking deer is against the law.

    Those in the know, who may read this, is there any effort to get a handle on the use of LED lights, limit how close they can come in or to establish a limit on the commercial squid catch?

    Thank you

  2. We have not confirmed why the bass spent the winter here. It seems likely that the water is warmer than usual and the fish don’t have to migrate to stay warm. Waiting for confirmation from the researchers.
    Yet another red flag of our overuse of fossil fuels.

  3. Bret Stearns is a treasure so much dedication and knowledge. Thank you Bret. Striped Bass thrive in large lakes and reservoirs out west.

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