Striper Wars by Dick Russell

– We have just finished reading Striper Wars, a new book by Dick Russell.  In addition to cataloging some of the environmental obstacles that striped bass must overcome if their population boom is to continue, Striper Wars relives some of events surrounding the crash of the striped bass population that took place in the late 1970s.  Dick Russell was a young activist then.  He clearly was then and still is enamored with this fish that symbolizes both the riches of America’s original coastal resources, and the pressures exerted on these resources in a rapidly developing country.  Dick Russell played a lead role in pressuring the politicians and fishery managers of the day to end the over-harvest of striped bass, an undertaking that he has labeled “Striper Wars.”

Dick recounts the political maneuvering against a host of players, ranging from industrial polluters and ruthless real estate developers, to commercial fishermen whose self-centered concerns ignored the welfare of the striped bass.  The dirty politicians are there, along with commercially oriented fishery bureaucrats who somehow – never fully explained to me by anyone – seemed to end up in the back pocket of the harvesters.  Sadly, many of the cast of characters reviled in Striper Wars are still around, and are still mismanaging and/or abusing the striper today.

Striper Wars reviews at some length problems that the striper presently faces, such as disease, global warming, commercial fishing, and habitat loss. The focus of this book, however, is not to analyze the current details of striped bass management, nor to take strong sides in a vision of how the fish should be utilized in the future.  Dick Russell is a journalist by background; he excels in presenting the evidence.  Many of his points are made through the eloquent voices he allows to be heard in his book.  In the last chapter, Eric May, a Maryland biologist who witnessed the last striped bass population crash, and Alan Peterson, past head of the National Marine Fisheries Service, both call for the end of commercial striped bass fishing.  They reach their conclusion for different reasons;  Peterson philosophically believes the fishery is more valuable to society untainted by commercial pressures, while May believes that stripers are meant to live long lives and can handle far less fishing pressure than people think.   Both of these views are, of course, key to Stripers Forever’s arguments for gamefish status.

Stripers Forever counts among its members many of the best-known fishing authors of our time.  We only offer a review of, or I guess you might say – a plug for– this particular book, in the hopes of making our members better informed and more highly motivated warriors for striped bass gamefish.  You will see in Striper Wars what it took to halt the destruction of the striper in 1982, and hopefully you will become more motivated to lend your voice to the current battle.

Brad Burns and George Watson