The Maryland Department of Natural Resources in October announced that its 2009 Young-of-the-Year Striped Bass Survey averaged 7.9 fish per haul this year, slightly below the long term average of 11.7.

The DNR has used the same techniques for the survey for the last 50 years to show the yearly spawning success for rockfish.

"These numbers may be slightly below the average, but it's well within the normal range of expectations," said DNR Fisheries Service Director Tom O'Connell. "The 2001 super year class, followed by a robust year class in 2003, should project for a healthy, sustainable population."

DNR samples from the same 22 locations every year. Biologists use a large net to sweep the area, counting all of the fish the net picks up. During this year's survey, biologists identified and counted more than 35,000 fish of 49 species, including 1,039 young-of-year striped bass.

It was the second consecutive year that the index was below the long-term average; in 2008 it was 3.20.

But in a 15-year stretch from 1996 through 2007, the index was near or above average 11 times, including indices that surpassed 50 in 1995 and 2001.

DNR biologists say it's normal to see both spikes and dips in the yearly index, because striped bass reproduction hinges on many environmental factors. Biologists say this year's fish, along with other large year classes, such as the record-setting 1996, 2001 and 2003, will continue to strengthen the population.

Striped bass are one of the region's biggest success stories. Overfishing sent the population to such low levels that severe catch limitations, and ultimately a fishing moratorium, were imposed along the East Coast during the 1980s.

Scientists say those restrictions, coupled with several years of climate conditions favorable to reproduction, helped the stock to rebound to unprecedented levels.

The DNR has monitored the reproductive success of striped bass and other species in Maryland's portion of the Chesapeake Bay annually since 1954. Twenty-two survey sites are located in the four major spawning systems: the Choptank, Potomac and Nanticoke rivers, and the Upper Bay. Biologists visit each site monthly from July through September, collecting fish samples with two sweeps of a 100-foot beach seine. The index is calculated as the average catch of young-of-year fish per sample. For information, go to www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/juvindex/index.html.