Striped Bass

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

striped bass Morone saxatilis, a valuable inshore fish of the eastern seaboard of the USA, ranging from the Gulf of St Lawrence down to the Gulf of Mexico (and often called rockfish or just ‘rock’ in the southern part of its range). The species was introduced also to the Pacific coast in the 19th century. Its maximum length is more than a metre (over 40") but the market length is less than half that.

Cole (1978), in Striper, a book which takes its title from the most common of the vernacular names for the fish, has celebrated both it and the fishermen who pursue it. He explains vividly how voracious these fish are, and what carnage ensues when they descend on their prey:

When a school of three hundred or four hundred stripers receives its simultaneous feeding message from impulses not yet fully deciphered by humankind, the creatures detonate a group frenzy that shatters the water’s surface with the violence of an erupting undersea geyser.

Everywhere the bait fish fly, as if some soundless, invisible tornado were sucking them up from beneath the sea. Broad bass tails smash the surface in white welts of foam; the turnings of the feeding fish start scores of swirling whirlpools, each a mark of the consummate energy a fish needs to reverse its course and swerve open-mouthed through the very center of the mass of panic the bait fish school has become … Sea birds scream of the carnage; their coarse signals carry for miles, attracting hundreds, sometimes thousands of their kin.