Maryland’s juvenile striped bass index, historically the best predictor of future rockfish populations, reached its second-highest mark in the 48 years the survey has been conducted.

The 2001 index was 50.8, second only to the index of 59.3 in 1996, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The young-of-year index is the average number of juvenile fish collected in 100-foot seine net surveys at 22 sites that are sampled from July through September. During this year’s survey, DNR biologists collected 6,699 young-of-year striped bass.

The Choptank River, with an index of 201.9, produced the highest index ever recorded for an individual river.

The Nanticoke River produced an unusually high index of 40.1, marking the third consecutive year of above-average production.

The Upper Bay index was 13.4, just above its long-term average. But the Potomac River index of 7.8 was its lowest in seven years.

Other observations made by biologists during the survey included healthy white perch production throughout the Bay, and the highest abundance of juvenile American shad ever measured in the Potomac River.

The index reflects a continued, sustained comeback for striped bass, which only 16 years ago were so scarce that Maryland closed its waters to fishing, and other coastal states followed suit.

Limited fishing seasons were opened in 1990, and by 1995 the stock was declared fully recovered. Today, striped bass numbers are so high that some fishermen complain they are eating too many blue crabs, while some scientists have expressed concerns that rockfish are running out of menhaden, one of their main sources of food.

The Bay is the most important East Coast spawning area for rockfish.