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Old 03-12-2006, 05:00 PM
Bay Stalker Bay Stalker is offline
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Exclamation Chesapeake's Rockfish Overrun by Disease

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."
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Old 03-12-2006, 05:15 PM
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Default Re: Chesapeake's Rockfish Overrun by Disease

Quote:
An infected rockfish can appear outwardly healthy.
Thanks Vince. I guess striper sushi is a bad idea. Troublesome article. I saw a few obviously sick ones last year. I might bring a few less home this year.
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Old 03-12-2006, 06:25 PM
STRIPASAURUS STRIPASAURUS is offline
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Question Re: Chesapeake's Rockfish Overrun by Disease

Have caught a few diseased fish myself.... the article equates lack of their natural food (bunker) to a part of the problem.

Are we overfishing the stripers natural food source just to have bait in our coolers??? To many stripers and not enough food to keep their immune systems up Who knows?

I know two people with fishhandlers disease.....

Git'r done!!!
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Old 03-13-2006, 07:42 AM
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Default Re: Chesapeake's Rockfish Overrun by Disease

There are more bunker in the ocean than any other fish. Bait boats don't even make a dent. It's the reduction boats. They surround the bunker with nets and vacuum them into the boat where they are mashed into pulp. Bunker are filter feeders. Without this filter feeding, algae and plankton grow. Oxygen gets depleted and this "pollution" happens. Maryland has for years been submitting inflated young of year statistics to mask the true condition of the species in the Chesapeake. A little extra research by that "reporter" would uncover this. Research by news reporters has, however, gone by the wayside. BTW, Maryland has two striper fisheries. One for the bay and one for the ocean. They get nearly 6 million pounds a year. Almost twice anywhere else. Plus there is also a Potomac River fishery. All three get seats on ASMFC.
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Old 03-13-2006, 08:24 AM
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Default Re: Chesapeake's Rockfish Overrun by Disease

This isn't a new story. The Omega Protein Corp plant in Reedville, VA processes something like 380 million pounds of menhaden a year it takes from Virginia's Chesapeake Bay waters. It get turned into livestock feed and nutritional supplements, which in turn are digested into waste that seeps back into the bay. Where, of course, the menhaden are no longer there in sufficient numbers to adequately filter the nutrients that contribute to the increased nitrogen levels that are thought to contribute to the Mycobacteriosis problem, thus completing the Catch-22 cycle. The VA legislature doesn't have the 'nads to stand up to these people.

I don't know about elevated reporting on recent young-of-year statistics; when I worked on those surveys in the late 80's we were pretty conservative in our reports. But I wouldn't be at all surprised if pressure from various interest groups have skewed them once the fishery was reopened and seen to bring in money to the tourist/rec fishing industry.

The MD and VA state governments have been horrible in dealing with the Bay. If you think the Striper population is screwed, you should read about how they have handled the declining Blue Crab and Oyster populations.
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Old 03-13-2006, 02:53 PM
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Unhappy Re: Chesapeake's Rockfish Overrun by Disease

This subject is very complex and the "science" is, as we can read, far from accurate.
Quote:
...scientists remain utterly baffled about its implications, including those for humans.
I don't mean to offend anyone but I think that we as sport fishermen have a knee jerk reaction to blame any negative on someone or something else. In this case we've immediately jumped on the menhaden reduction industry since it's an easy target and we don't like Omega Protein.

The most alarming thing in the article is that this disease has "jumped" to humans in a different form, "swollen lymph glands and lung disease."

I have to agree with both Chuck and Wildbob that MD & VA have been too slow and overly concerned with their economic benefits to address this situation as an emergency.

It also basically throws out the NMFS and ASMFC positions that the striped bass fishery is "healthy" and "robust." If there was a disease effecting 19% of the beef cattle, hogs or chickens we'd be all over it. If 19% of 2 year old kids were coming down with a strange disease billions of dollars would be spent.

We may be looking at a natural OR man made destruction of the striped bass fishery.

Meantime the opening of the EEZ to striped bass fishing is still on the table. Just imagine the slaugther when the 6 pack charter boats and party boats get to make two runs daily in these waters. It will be awesome!

Don't believe me look and read the info about the new VA state record on the home page - one umbrella rig caught a 30 pounder & a 68!
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Old 03-13-2006, 06:59 PM
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Default Re: Chesapeake's Rockfish Overrun by Disease

It's mother natures way of say go get them Fishpicker !!!
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Old 03-13-2006, 07:47 PM
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Default Re: Chesapeake's Rockfish Overrun by Disease

I ALWAYS SAID,,,,,,,,,, someday they'll open up the bridge good and wide while thousands stand on top throwing confetti,,,,singing WHEN THE SAINTS COME MARCHING IN!
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Old 03-14-2006, 07:16 AM
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Default Re: Chesapeake's Rockfish Overrun by Disease

C'mon Mr. Bentrod? Tell us how you can help those Stripers from getting all those spots on them.
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Old 03-14-2006, 06:47 PM
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Default Re: Chesapeake's Rockfish Overrun by Disease

Quote:
Originally Posted by BennyB
C'mon Mr. Bentrod? Tell us how you can help those Striper's from getting all those spots on them.
I'm not sure if the main forum is ready for my views of where those spots are coming from,,,,,,,but its amazing that any form of disease on any other food source would be getting alot of attention,,,,and only because its STRIPED BASS,,,the recs fish of choice that the spots are just swept under the rug....how about if it came down to it that the disease of striped bass was spread to other marine life,,,,could the recs HANDLE WHAT WOULD HAVE TO BE DONE??????
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Old 03-14-2006, 07:11 PM
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Default Re: Chesapeake's Rockfish Overrun by Disease

I believe that it goes something like this:



The Nets were hung in the yard with care in hope that the striper laws would soon be fair !!!!!


Put me in coach I'm ready to pick !



Oh when the saints come marchin in oh when the saints come marchin in

Its the AIDS of fish mother nature is takin over I dare the NJ legislation to try and stop it. Next ; Brad will be trying to blame the Commercial sector for his precious fish contracting AIDS. :~(
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Old 03-14-2006, 07:52 PM
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Default Re: Chesapeake's Rockfish Overrun by Disease

Picker and Bentrod,

Just a dumb question, but why do you guys seem glad this is happening? I am not trying to stir the pot, just totally uneducated as to how this is anything but a major bummer for comm or rec.
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Old 03-14-2006, 11:40 PM
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Default Re: Chesapeake's Rockfish Overrun by Disease

I'm not glad at all, I truly feel sorry for the major majority of anglers, Like the bulk of the posters here at SSc. But in the same light there are a few sick sick sick individuals that have gone out of there way to preach LIES. Our own Government is dumping agent Orange into the Bays , But who is blamed the bunker fleet. Not once has anybody said Hold on DuPont is dumping toxic waste.


Shipwreck put the shoe on the other foot How would you feel if day after day you watched one sector murder something that you can't even look at or you'll be deemed a evil person. Meanwhile the same do gooders are flat out Blatantly breaking the law. The whole striper issue is the ultimate in double standards. But remember the Comms are always the bad guys !!!!!!!!.
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Old 03-15-2006, 06:26 AM
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Default Re: Chesapeake's Rockfish Overrun by Disease

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shipwreck
Picker and Bentrod,

why do you guys seem glad this is happening? :
answer me why this is happening,,,,does it have anything to do with NMFS playing the role of god...wheres the balance......take all the other species out of the ocean but don't touch striped bass and watch them run ramped,,,,same with dogs,,,,,don't touch the dogs and watch them feast on everything else to survive....we have a balance game being played right now driven by the recreational lust to mount a 50 pounder on the wall....

and how about mad cow and bird flu,,,its socially acceptable to wipe out the flock to get rid of it before it spreads,,,,but what would you think if the idea was raised about thinning out the striped bass population before it spreads in the ecosystem...and WHO'S TO SAY THATS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN....then what ,,,the whole world would be screwed...some would say make the ocean a playground for the sports and start making fish farms,,,,but thats probably where the spots came from to begin with....throw farm raised product into the wild????????
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Old 03-15-2006, 06:44 AM
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Default Re: Chesapeake's Rockfish Overrun by Disease

Hey Guys,

I hear you. I think alot of others do too. Not all recs are unreasonable. Most of us are just uneducated, mis-educated, or after the crash in the 80's have a knee-jerk response to say less is more. You guys would catch more so recs say "less from the comms".

I personally think you are right on, it is coming from pollution, which we all can get behind in hating, and an unnatural balance. George Carlin, used to say "Save the earth? Ha the earth is gonna shake us off like a bad habit". That is, in my humble opinion what is happening. By trying to regulate we create an inbalance, and by letting big business rape our world we are hurting the already precarious balance.

I think it is a real shame. And as for specific orgs like sfa or others, do you think they have an actual say when it comes to comapanies like DuPont? Please. Not even NMFS tells the religion of money and power what to do. The little guy is doomed.

To sum up, I am with you guys on this, yet no matter how much you thin the herd at this point, I think it is a lost cause until people wake up and realize we are driving ouselves into extinction.
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