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Wrightsville Beach
Tuesday, January 31, 2023

StriperFest nets more people and fish than ever

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By Cullen Lea

Intern

StriperFest 2015 reeled in its biggest year yet, thanks to 500 attendees at the Coastline Convention Center and more tagged fish than ever before. The weekend was met with sunny skies and happy, smiling children.

“We’re delighted with the turnout this year,” Kay Lynn Hernandez, Cape Fear River Watch Education Coordinator, said. “We’ve raised more money at our banquet than last year and had great exhibits at our education day.”

Children and their parents flooded the convention center, to have their faces painted and participate in a myriad of activities:  “Go Fish” games, fish coloring, Coast Guard education and live anadromous fish anatomy education.

“Our new puppet show illustrating the life of anadromous fish was a big hit with the kids,” Hernandez said. “We were able to host around 250 children this year, more than ever before.”

The entire event benefits anadromous fish like the striped bass, which live in the sea but return to fresh water to spawn. However, due to the various dams built along the Cape Fear River, the fish have difficulty traveling to spawning grounds. Their population has seen a significant decline as a result.

Kemp Burdette, event coordinator and Cape Fear Riverkeeper, said the purpose of StriperFest is to raise money and awareness about the migration issue.

“We try to inform people that a disruption in the ecosystem affects everything, the Cape Fear River, fish life in general, even parts of the Atlantic Ocean,” he said.

Despite these facts, Burdette and other Cape Fear River Watch members have been working non-stop to ameliorate the situation. One way they have helped is by devising a StriperFest fishing tournament.

Various boats skimmed the river’s waters, catching fish and tagging them with tracking devices so scientists could gain information about their travel patterns and spawning locations. All of this data is paramount in determining ways to restore their population.

“We’ve had a fantastic outpouring this year,” Burdette said. “All of our efforts go toward building pathways for the fish to bypass the various dams along our river. We’ve built one so far, but we need the funding for the last two.”

As the sun began to set, the fishermen returned to shore to share their results. For the first time in StriperFest history, every boat caught at least one fish. Overall, 23 fish were tagged, the highest number since the initial tournament in 2009. Two boats caught four fish each and the largest fish of the day came in around 39 inches.

“This year has been awesome for us,” Burdette said. “Between the fishermen, sponsors, donors and attendees, they all help us restore our river for another year.”

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