Fishy politics under water

Author and conservation activist Dick Russell’s last book, “Eye of the Whale,” told the story of the decimation and recovery of the California gray whale. He’s switched coasts to recount the efforts in the 1980s to bring back striped bass from near extinction along the Atlantic coast.

This could be a dry tract on conservation, except that Russell enlivens it with well-drawn portraits of the sometimes-crusty anglers and biologists who fought to bring back these prized game fish and the twisting plot of politics and science. A chapter on the story of striped bass in California describes the ongoing battles over water for agriculture versus wildlife and the looming debate over protecting native species or introduced game fish.

The stripers’ recovery is a great success story, except that East Coast stripers are now threatened by commercial over-fishing of their food sources — an illustration of the need for ecosystem-based fishery management.

It’s ironic that in the Atlantic striped bass are called “rockfish” — the name for an entirely different family of fish in the Pacific that have been subject to similar over-fishing and mismanagement. But unlike East Coast anglers and charter captains, who supported a decade-long closure of all fishing for stripers, in California some sport fishing groups continue to fight restrictions. They should read this book.