Monday, February 25, 2013

Skin Disease on Stripers Causing Alarm

Yesterday I was fishing in Gansett Bay for wintering over stripers.  I landed a couple of fish, but one fish still haunts me.  The fish was about 15 inches long and was so covered in skin disease, lesions and rotting fins, I could barely recognize it as a striper.  This is a growing problem as I have seen this over and over in the past year with fish I have caught in the Bay as well as along the oceanfront.  Many are pointing to the disease, mycobacteriosis (myco), as the culprit while others are saying it might be last year's unusually warm water that could be the cause.
We know from scientific research that anywhere from 50-90 % of the stripers in the Chesapeake Bay are affected with the disease mycobacteriosis. The disease rate has accelerated in recent years causing serious concern for the future of the fishery.
The following comes from a recent posting from the MA Division of Marine Fisheries after many concerns from fishermen who have landed striped bass this year with lesions on their bodies. "Mycobacteriosis is a generic term that describes diseases caused by a group of bacteria known as Mycobacteria. These types of bacteria are widespread in nature, particularly in aquatic environments. A small fraction of mycobacterial species causes disease in animals and humans. A newly described species of mycobacteria, Mycobacterium shottsii, is the type most commonly associated with the current outbreak of mycobacteriosis among striped bass in Chesapeake Bay. The disease is characterized by external and internal lesions that can kill the infected striped bass, thus the initial concern that the disease had reached Massachusetts."
Note that many of the stripers with skin disease from MA did not test positive for Myco.  However, added concerns about what could be causing this have some scientists pointing to warm water as the culprit.  Once again, from the MA Dept of Marine Fisheries, "Lesions on the skin of striped bass are a relatively common occurrence and have many causative agents. The elevated prevalence seen in some areas this year may be associated with the anomalously high spring and summer water temperatures seen in Massachusetts and more southerly waters. "
With the spring run coming soon, keep an eye out for stripers with skin disease and use caution when handling these fish.  If you are handling these fish, gloves are suggested.  Yes, myco can cause problems in humans and is often  referred to as"fish handler's disease".