Striped Bass Underwater

Striped Bass PCB

Detecting Contaminants in Striped Bass Throughout Long Island and New York City Waters

In 2022, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County Fisheries began our project with the NYSDEC in sampling Striped Bass for PCBs, PFAS, and other contaminants. A study like this hasn’t been conducted since 1997, when striped bass were found to be contaminated with chemicals known to have adverse effects on human health. Due to those findings, multiple areas around Long Island and NYC were closed to fishing, causing economic strain to fishermen in those areas. Since then, New York’s waters have gone through a transformation and are cleaner now than they have been in recent memory. Our hope is to aid the NYSDEC in determining current striped bass contaminate levels with the hope that closed areas can reopen to commercial striped bass fishing.

In 2022, we have sampled in areas all around Long Island, including the LI Sound. These waters are broken up into 5 distinct zones where CCE has made contacts and friends with local fishermen looking to get out bass fishing. For each zone, CCE is tasked with collecting 10 Striped Bass between 26 inches and 38 inches, plus 1 trophy-sized fish over 38 inches. These sizes reflect recreational and commercial size limits for Striped Bass, so will be crucial in determining if fish that will potentially be eaten harbor any dangerous contaminants. Furthermore, many of the contaminants NYSDEC is investigating bio-magnify – meaning that concentrations of the contaminant increases through the food chain, with predators, such as bass and humans, receiving a high dose of contamination from their prey – and bioaccumulate – meaning the concentration of contaminants in the flesh increases with time as the animal continues to eat contaminated prey. It’s important to find out if these processes have slowed down, with the proof in large striped bass with clean, contaminant-free fillets.

NYSDEC has also charged CCE with collecting other biological samples from the striped bass we catch in order to utilize the whole fish for scientific study. In addition to fillets, CCE also takes scale and otolith – fish ear bones – samples from each fish which will determine the age of each fish. CCE is also collecting stomachs for stomach analyses that will show what prey items striped bass are feeding on in each area. Spleens and fin clips are taken and stored in ethanol to conduct disease and DNA analyses, respectively. Finally, CCE also notes down the sex of each fish, which will give a sense of the population dynamics around Long Island.

In 2023, we will begin sampling in and around New York City Harbor, an area that has seen multiple closures due to poor water quality. There, CCE will join NYC fishermen to collect 7 fish from a total of 8 distinct zones near NYC and New Jersey. Sampling is set to end in December 2023.


Amanda Dauman
Fisheries Specialist

Last updated June 28, 2023