Striped Bass: A Grim Update

In mid-August, the Cape Cod Times came out with a story headlined, “Infection attacking striped bass.” The article cited the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries noting that “warming water temperatures might be causing an increase in the number of striped bass that have lesions from a viral or bacterial infection….The agency urged caution in handling fish because the disease can be transferred to humans through contact.” Yet, supposedly, according to “visual tests,” this is not linked to the mycobacteriosis that has impacted upwards of 70 per cent of striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay, a disease that eventually kills them. I passed the article along to a longtime fishing friend, Jim White, who’s probably the top charterboat fishing captain in Rhode Island. He responded:

The State of Mass. is trying to protect the commercial rod and reel fishery from totally collapsing. If people knew about this, nobody would buy or eat any. I recently got a call from the US Coast Guard, District-1, some Ensign. He said that he was told that I was some sort of EXPERT on Myco and wanted to know what I knew about it. I said, I’m no expert, but I do know a lot about it. He then asked me if I have seen fish recently with signs of Myco. I replied, Do you mean in the last ten or twelve years, or just last week? He was silent. He then asked, what do you mean the last ten or twelve years, I said, that’s how long this shit has been out there. Are you serious he asked? YES, I said.I then asked him WHY was the USCG looking for information on MYCO? He said their office have and has received thousands of calls from anglers wanting to know what the red sores are. I said, REALLY?? I then asked him if the USCG was now going to look into it, he said, YES, we have to because of so many complaints. I said, well, you’re about 12-years too late pal.

I offered to show the Commandant of the USCG, my Power Point Presentation on MYCO and anyone else there that would want to view it. He said he’d pass my offer on to higher ranking people. That was over a month ago and I havn’t heard a thing yet. Don’t expect to either.

Then, about three or four days later, Mark Gibson [of the Rhode Island fisheries agency] put out a request to the RISAA Group for any information on fish with red sores, photos if possible and to bring fish in to DEM if they would. I contacted Gibson and this is what I asked him. READY??? “Mark, is or has everyone there in DEM, been living under a rock for the last ten or twelve years??? This shit isn’t new, what are you talking about??” He answered me, “Yes Jim, we know and knew it was here, but it was never such a big deal before, now it is. He then said that the ASMFC [Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission] would now HAVE TO CONSIDER THE EFFECTS OF MYCO ON THE STOCK AND IN THE STOCK ASSESSMENT!!! I said, Oh, boy, only twelve dam years too late. What do you think that is going to do at this point with the stock falling like a stone off the top of a mountain??? He said, they’d HAVE to address it at this point, along with OTHER DISEASES.

I picked up on that one really quick. I asked, WHAT OTHER DISEASES??? HIS RESPONSE?? I CAN’T TELL YOU AT THIS TIME. I just love this disclaimer! Don’t worry, they are fine, but wear heavy gloves, use anti-bacterial soap, and seek medical attention IMMEDIATELY if you show signs of infection. YEAH RIGHT!!! NO PROBLEM AT ALL. Just follow everyone else off the cliff, get in line.

According to the article in the Cape Cod Times, a leading fisheries biologist in Virginia says “a lot more funding will be needed to research the connection between the striped bass and mycobacteriosis in northern waters.” What I’m wondering about is why no connection is still being made between the infection and thinner striped bass due to a lack of food – specifically, menhaden, their time-honored food of choice in the Chesapeake region and along the coast. Earlier in August, the ASMFC agreed to move forward with new restrictions on the menhaden harvest – most of it taken by a single Virginia company, Omega Protein, which grinds the little baitfish up for fish meal and fish oil. But the governing commission ruled out slashing the catch by 75 percent, and said it MIGHT consider a 50 percent reduction after a public comment period. This is despite the fact that the menhaden stock is at its lowest point on record due to overfishing.

It’s the same old story – study the problem, until it’s too late. Which it pretty much is. Jim White gave me permission to post his subsequent comments, emailed to me after I asked him how the fishing was in Rhode Island this summer. He said:

Well, it would go better if there were some damn fish to catch! But there isn’t~~ The fishing inside the [Narragansett] bay right now is as bad as it was in the late 1970’s, maybe even a bit worse. There isn’t a striped bass to be found anywhere, of any size, in any area, of the entire bay.
Once in awhile, and RARELY, you come across a schoolie, ONE, after that, go home.
Our spring fishery used to run until about the first week of July. Then a couple of years ago it went to the last week of June, then the third week of June, now its in the second week of June, and then for all practical purposes its OVER.
Our fall fishery is NON-EXISTENT~ Its gone, done, over. Has been for YEARS now.
Ya know, I really believed that I would never see this happen again, guess I was either stupid or naive.
I saw this coming about eight or nine years ago, when the so-called, “catch and release” FAD, started to deteriorate. And FAST!!
Guys that came fishing for years, were now wanting to take fish home with them, ALL THE TIME. As the fish grew bigger, THEY ALL WANTED THEM, EVEN THE FLY FISHING GUYS. FRIGGING AMAZING!!!!!
I’d try to tell them or explain to them, if you and everyone else does this, WE ARE GONNA RUN OUT OF FISH EVENTUALLY.
No one paid too much attention to it then, BUT THEY ARE NOW~~~!!!!!
Tried to tell them, I had already seen it, lived it, fought it, the same shit was happening all over again.
Only now it’s worse, much worse. More people fishing, more tournaments than ever before, more boat owners, gear and electronics are a thousand times improved over what we used in the 70’s and early 80’s, there isn’t much food for them, at least not menhaden, water quality is worse, and now we have DISEASE to deal with besides. IT DOESN’T GET TOO MUCH WORSE THAN THAT.
Eventually, they will all say one more time, or once again, “Gee Jim, you were right We seem to have a problem with stripers.”
Yep, only this time, I don’t believe that we are going to get as LUCKY as we did the last time. Just too many more issues at hand to deal with this time around, and no Claudine Schneider, or John Chaffee, or John Cole, hanging in the wings to help push things along. This time the fish are all on their own, with a Commission that is just as fucked up as it ever was. The same Commission that has bragged about doing it all themselves to help restore the striped bass, when in truth and reality, you and I brought them to the table kicking and screaming.
Talk about having the fox guard the hen house. More like Big Foot and Aliens in the hen house.
The vast majority of fish now being caught are from 20 to 50 or more lbs. No one reports seeing schools of school bass anymore. Very rarely. How long to do you think that will last?? Right now I’d say no more than one or two more years, at the top end. Even Block Island this summer has slowed WAY DOWN, and none of these assholes can see it for themselves.
They are back to saying, claiming, believing, that: the fish are someplace else, they are where the bait is, it’s the water temperature, it’s sun spots, it’s the moon phase, they are two or three weeks behind, the tide is wrong, the wind is wrong, too many space shuttles went up, solar flares upset their migration, some unknown place is LOADED with them, YOU KNOW THE EXCUSES. THEY NEVER END. THEY ONLY GET MORE WEIRD AS TIME GOES ON. PEOPLE ARE WILLING TO BLAME OR INVENT ALMOST ANYTHING EXCEPT, ADMIT THAT THEY ALL MADE A BIG MISTAKE.


Dick Russell