Striped Bass and a Warmer Ocean 2011

Cape May, NJ – The smiles on anglers’ faces this month may not look like a sign of climate change, but the fish they’re holding could be an important  indicator.  As late as December 18, fly angler Captain Ray Szulczewski of the Tiderunner, shown above,  was catching striped bass. (As with most fly anglers, Szulczewski releases the fish.)

Only 30 years ago, it was almost unheard of to catch striped bass after Thanksgiving. The water was simply too cold. When water temperatures plummet into the mid 40ºs F in late November or December, bass become lethargic.

This year, December ocean temperatures are unseasonably warm here in Cape May and along the rest of the Jersey shore. With warmer water temperatures, striped bass are still active.

Historically, December ocean temperatures in Cape May average about 42º F according to records from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This December,  NOAA data shows ocean temperatures have been above 50º F for the first half of the month. That’s similar to the average ocean temperature in November.

While local striped bass fishermen definitely are benefiting from the higher ocean temperatures,  in the long term, a warmer ocean could  fuel more intense hurricanes and Nor’easters.

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About Paul Kerlinger

Paul Kerlinger, Ph.D. is a scientist, author and nationally known expert on bird migration. He's done extensive studies on hawks, Snowy Owls and neotropical song birds. Kerlinger is the former director of the Cape May Bird Observatory, His books include How Birds Migrate and Flight Strategies of Migrating Hawks. He's an ardent fly fisherman and organic vegetable gardener.