Friday, February 11th, 2011 | posted by mike
The royal, regal and mighty striped bass has an important history in our country that goes back to colonial times. In 1623 enough of these incredible fish were caught on one fishing trip to feed the Mayflower colonists for three months! In colonial New England, Striped Bass was such a prized resource that the first conservation measure was taken to protect them. Part of that measure was to prevent them from being used as fertilizer. The first free school was founded on Cape Cod in 1670 with funds largely generated from the sale of these fish.
Striped Bass are still still a very important commercial food fish and a fantastic game fish. Called “Stripers” in New England and “Rockfish” in the Chesapeake Bay, their range is from the St. Lawrence Seaway in Canada to northern Florida. Stocks have historically had some serious ups and downs. One low point was in the early 80s right when we opened Monahan’s Seafood Market. The fishery was in bad shape and in 1981 the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission enacted a coastwide management plan. Tough management measures protected the stocks and in 1995 the stocks were formally declared as restored.
We are so lucky to still be able to enjoy this most incredible fish. They have everything going for them! Good looks—big (saltwater record 78.5 lbs.), handsome in the well-proportioned classic kind of way—and a texture and flavor that’s hard to beat! They are anadromous so they spawn in fresh water and have successfully been introduced to rivers and reservoirs all over the world. Because of their size and strength they are a super popular sports fish. I’ve surf-casted with live eel bait on Cape Cod and had a blast fishing off the rocks in Maine using fresh-caught mackerel. Bass are so strong that they feed in the heavy currents right of the rocks eating any fish or shellfish that they can fit in their mouths. I ‘ll never forget the perfectly intact 2 lb. Lobster we removed from the belly of a 25 pounder at the market several years ago.
The flavor is fantastic—not full flavored like mackerel or bluefish—but not too delicate either. It’s got a taste with character that will hold up to many preparations. I think the best size fish for the table are small 2-4 lb. fish (great to roast or steam whole) or fillets from 5-15 lb. fish. The fish is incredibly versatile. There’s not much that you can’t do with ‘em. We’ve baked, steamed, fried, stuffed, grilled, used in chowders and bouillabaisse, made ceviche and sashimi—all with great results. Flavor-wise, the best striped bass at market (in my opinion) are wild caught.
Because these fish can live in fresh water they have successfully cross-bred wild striped bass with their freshwater cousins the White Bass. You can tell the difference because they are much smaller, average 1-2 lbs., and the black horizontal stripes are broken. Not bad farm raised fish, but the taste and texture of wild Striper is something you’ll never forget.
An American fish hero at the table or at the end of a fishing line, the striped bass is truly one of our top classic fish.