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20,269 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This was e-mailed me by Krayfish... an article from the Washington Post regarding the disease in stripers in the Chesapeake..... and maybe an answer to what is wrong with those fish you catch, but don't want to touch..

Chesapeake's Rockfish Overrun by Disease
Epidemic Hits Species Hailed for Revival, Then Weakened by Polluted Waters

By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 11, 2006; A01

A wasting disease that kills rockfish and can cause a severe skin infection
in humans has spread to nearly three-quarters of the rockfish in the
Chesapeake Bay, cradle of the mid-Atlantic's most popular game fish.

The mycobacteriosis epidemic could carry profound implications for the
rockfish, also known as striped bass. The fish fuel a $300 million industry
in Maryland and Virginia, but because the bacteria kill slowly, effects on
the stock are only now emerging.

The disease also sends a grim message about the entire bay ecosystem. The
rockfish remains bay conservationists' only success story -- a species
nearly wiped out, then revived by fishing limits.

But as the number of rockfish surged, the fish remained in a body of water
too polluted to support the level of life it once did. That made them
vulnerable to a malady researchers did not see coming -- a signal, some
scientists say, that controlling fish harvests is no longer enough to
ensure long-term survival of a species.

"We used to think that if you got hold of fishing, all your problems would
be solved," said James H. Uphoff Jr., a biologist at the Maryland
Department of Natural Resources. "But now all these ecological problems
crop up, and we don't understand them."

Indeed, nearly a decade after mycobacteriosis first appeared, scientists
remain utterly baffled about its implications, including those for humans.
Researchers know that the Chesapeake, where most rockfish spawn, also
breeds the bacterium and is the epicenter of the disease. Yet they don't
know how or why it appeared, whether it will spread to other species or if
the infection it causes is always fatal.

A new study suggests that since the illness was discovered among bay
rockfish, non-fishing mortality among them has tripled in the upper bay.
But scientists cannot explain why, at the same time, anglers are catching
plenty of fish.

In humans who touch the fish, the microbe can cause a skin infection known
as fish handler's disease, which is not life-threatening but can lead to
arthritis-like joint problems if untreated. Watermen say the only sick fish
they see are in small, overcrowded rivers and streams. The netting season
that ended Feb. 28 "was a super-good season as far as catching, and a good
season as far as the price," said Larry Simns, president of the Maryland
Watermen's Association. With no evidence of health risk from eating the
fish, watermen say, prices have remained stable.

But at Ristorante Tosca in downtown Washington, "some people ask, 'Is it
safe?' " chef Massimo Fabbri said of the rockfish on the menu. Such
questions have prompted Fabbri to buy the restaurant's wild rockfish from
Northern Europe and Ecuador, paying about three times what he would for
local bass. "Wouldn't you?" he asked.

As researchers test a long list of hypotheses, they say their search for
the bacterium's source and implications highlights the limitations of
modern science when pitted against the complexities of the wild.

"Scientists attempt to unravel things [and] are supposed to follow the
information wherever it leads us," said Victor Crecco of the Connecticut
Department of Environmental Protection, author of the mortality study.
"We're going to have to do more work to explain these contradictions."

For centuries, striped bass fishing has been as rich in lore as it was in
quality. In ideal conditions, rockfish can live up to 30 years: The biggest
on record was a 125-pound female, landed off North Carolina in 1891. In
this region, charter boat operators tell of swimsuit-wearing amateurs
landing dozens of the silver-scaled fighters in a day -- the fish longer
than one's arm, bellies made fat on the teeming schools of menhaden that
are a chief food source.

Most rockfish begin their lives in the rivers feeding the bay. When they
are 3 to 6 years old, they begin their journeys to the Atlantic Ocean,
where they range as far north as Canada. At spawning time, most return to
their birthplace.

This vast migration route confounds scientists' efforts to track the
infection. In 1997, mycobacteriosis was discovered in adult fish, but the
disease was already advanced. To find out when fish become infected,
researchers such as Mark Matsche of the Maryland DNR visit rockfish
spawning grounds in the upper bay and the Choptank and Potomac rivers,
collecting eggs and young.

"The fish are exposed to the bacteria right from the start. . . . It's
ubiquitous," he found. "It can survive in water or sediment or mucus."

An infected rockfish can appear outwardly healthy. But inside, the bacteria
settle first in its spleen. The creature builds walls of scar tissue in
fighting it, but the infection spreads to other organs. The rockfish loses
weight, even as its insides swell, and it often develops sores. At some
point -- researchers do not know exactly when -- it dies.

In the bay, "by age 1, 11 percent are infected. By age 2, it's 19 percent,"
Matsche said. But he cannot go beyond that -- by the third year, some fish
have left the bay for open water. There is no way to see the infection's
progress without dissecting the fish.

"We can't even say they die for sure," Matsche said. "The severely infected
fish I catch . . . a lot of them die. Some moderately infected ones have
some sign of healing going on. But I'm not able to see that same fish a
year down the line."

About the same time the first diseased fish appeared, some researchers grew
concerned about a possible link to fish handler's disease. In Maryland, 18
cases of the skin condition were reported in 2000. In 2004, there were 46.

The Mycobacteria strain that causes the skin disease has been found only in
a small percentage of diseased fish.

Michele M. Monti, director of the Waterborne Hazards Control Program at the
Virginia Department of Health, said the fish handler's bacterium can also
lead to other problems, including swollen lymph glands or lung disease.

Tracking the potential effect on humans is more difficult because the
states do not require that the disease be reported. So, Monti said, the low
number of cases "could either be because there's not a lot of it out there
. . . or they haven't gotten it diagnosed."

In the mid-1980s, rockfish numbers were so decimated by overfishing that
Atlantic coastal states imposed a moratorium. Populations surged, and by
1995 the fishing ban ended. Wildlife officials call the restoration a rare
triumph amid the pollution, overfishing and disease that threaten blue
crabs, oysters and other species. But less than two years after victory was
declared, the first diseased rockfish landed on bay shores.

James E. Price of the Chesapeake Bay Ecological Foundation said studies
show that declines in the amount of menhaden in the rockfish diet coincide
with the appearance of the disease. "It's logical," he said, "but nobody
has any way to connect it."

Every day, as he has done for eight years, Wolfgang K. Vogelbein is
surrounded by rockfish, some healthy, some dying -- he's not always sure
which. Vogelbein, a fish pathologist at the Virginia Institute of Marine
Science, was the first to diagnose mycobacteriosis in the bay's rockfish
and determined that three-quarters of them carry it.

Last fall, Vogelbein, fish pathologist David Gauthier and mathematician
John Hoenig affixed plastic tags to the bodies of 2,000 rockfish in the
Rappahannock River, some outwardly diseased and some apparently healthy,
with notes offering a reward for their return. They've gotten 120 from
anglers. Using mathematical models, they hope to show whether the disease
actually kills bay fish and estimate how long that takes.

So far, Vogelbein's team has found 10 strains of the bacteria in diseased
rockfish, including two so new that their effect on humans is unknown.

"It's a difficult process trying to figure out the role of disease in a
population of wild animals in a huge system like the bay," he said. "In
this case, we still don't have the tools to efficiently answer the more
compelling questions.

"That's just the nature of the beast."

233 Posts
very disturbing indeed,i have seen these fish with the sores on them and the skinny ones that just look like there sick. hope something can be done to stop this. thanks great article.

413 Posts
Boy, stripers (rockfish) seem to get a lot of bad diseases. I went to a seminar on Pfiesteria, a few years ago at the Wetlands Institute and they were describing loss of memory and motor skills from the researchers handling the infected fish before they realized what was hapening. After that they would only do the research in full bio-contamination suits.

673 Posts
I hate reading stuff like that, striper is my favorite fish to eat, probably going to cut down on how fequently I eat striper. What fish do you think is the safest to eat in our area?

1,008 Posts
Originally posted by bass ackwards:
I hate reading stuff like that, striper is my What fish do you think is the safest to eat in our area?
unfortunately, it's probably Pepperidge Farm's Goldfish.

128 Posts
The same problems exist in the Delaware Bay. So, if we dump a couple million gallons of decontaminated nerve gas into our bay, that will help clean our water, how?

20,269 Posts
Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Logic Joe?? You are applying logic?

4,213 Posts
Maybe all that nerve gas will kill the disease. We caught a 45 incher in the rips this fall with tumor like sores. It had no fight at all and must have weighed about 15lbs.Very said.My boat in the Keys has NJ registration. I pulled up to a fuel dock and the women asked if I fish up there in NJ. I replied yes and she then asked if I eat those fish? Kind of makes me sick thinking about it because I probably feed to much toxic fish to my family. The color of the meat in the fish and crabs is much cleaner looking in the Keys but it is not easy making money down there.

1,008 Posts
James E. Price of the Chesapeake Bay Ecological Foundation said studies
show that declines in the amount of menhaden in the rockfish diet coincide
with the appearance of the disease. "It's logical," he said, "but nobody
has any way to connect it."

after reading this statement, it's amazing to me that the Governor of VA did not sign the bill to cap the amount of bunker that could be harvested from the chesapeake. i hope that the moratorium that they are possibly going to implement on all bunker netting in the bay passes. bunker are the key to a healthy striper fishery.

31,457 Posts
Maybe they need to realize Bunker are Filter Feeders.

The money they've spent in tax dollars trying to clean up the bay is far more then Omega generates.

21,273 Posts
SAD thing is its been known for YEARS the bay is f**** up and not enough has been done about it.

Omega meeds to be shut done for starters.
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