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New 2021 harvest seasons established for striped bass on the Roanoke River

RALEIGHThe N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission issued a proclamation outlining significant changes to the 2021 striped bass harvest season in the Roanoke River Management Area. Striped bass open harvest dates will be:

  • April 10–16 in the lower river zone (downstream of the U.S. Highway 258 bridge at Scotland Neck to the mouth at Albemarle Sound).
  • April 24–30 in the upper river zone (upstream of the Highway U.S. 258 bridge at Scotland Neck to the base of Roanoke Rapids Dam).

Changes to the season framework became necessary when the harvest quota in the Roanoke River was reduced from 68,750 pounds to 12,800 pounds. The reduction was deemed a necessary conservation action intended to rebuild the striped bass population. Results from a 2020 stock assessment of the Roanoke River/Albemarle Sound conducted by the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, with assistance from the Wildlife Commission, indicated that the stock was overfished and overfishing was occurring. 

The separate weeks selected in each river zone coincide with the highest average weekly harvest totals observed by Wildlife Commission fisheries staff over the last nine years.

“As harvest options were considered, we identified the days where harvest was historically the highest in each area of the river. Although the timing of fish migration into the river is different each spring, daily harvest during the two weekly periods selected averaged between 700 and 1,300 pounds of striped bass per day,” said Commission Coastal Fisheries Supervisor Chad Thomas.

Size limits and daily creel limits will remain the same. During the two separate harvest periods, the minimum length limit is 18 inches, and no striped bass between 22 and 27 inches (the protective slot) may be possessed at any time. The daily creel limit is two fish, only one of which may be larger than 27 inches.

“For decades our primary concern on the Roanoke has been having enough water in the river during April and May to provide optimum spawning conditions”, said Thomas. “The reverse is now true, where we are dealing regularly with periods of heavy rainfall and extreme high flow events that flush fertilized eggs and fry out of the river channel and into the floodplain where survival is limited at best.” 

The N.C. Estuarine Striped Bass Fishery Management Plan is in the process of being amended, and additional management strategies to aid with stock recovery on the Roanoke River will be identified and presented to the public for input in late 2021. 

Despite the shortened harvest season, anglers can continue to catch and release striped bass throughout the spring. To reduce handling stress on fish that are released, the Commission recommends anglers use a single barbless hook or a lure with a single barbless hook, a requirement from April 1 through June 30 when fishing in the upper Roanoke River zone above the US Highway 258 bridge near Scotland Neck.

Signage will be posted at boating access areas (BAAs) along the Roanoke River to notify anglers of the changes to the open harvest dates. More information about boating access areas on the Roanoke River can be found using the agency’s online BAA locator.