Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report



Anyone coming across smaller bass with infections please let me know.

And I’d definitely wash my hands after handling any bass with sores. Fortunately, most of you know the difference between line bruises and actual sores.

If you can get a photo of any red marks/lesions on a bass, that’ll help me get word to the various agencies studying the mycobacterium infections plaguing stripers. 

A growing fear is a possible break-out of disease-distinct Mycobacteria chesapeaki and schottsii, which first appeared in the Chesapeake. These potentially lethal infective agents are double troubling because they are essentially mutated forms of most mycobacteria -- to which bass have an immunity.

The big question remains why.

Answers are now just about as varied as the studies focusing on the disease. I see a lot of academic merit in the theory that a huge striped bass biomass increase, led by conservation efforts, was unable to find adequate forage. Anecdotal repots pointed to a precipitous decline in menhaden (bunker), the prime forage for younger bass. Also problematic was the overall decline in the environmental health of the Chesapeake Bay basin, particularly riverine spawning areas, like the Potomac.

Studies are now underway to determine if newly hatched striped bass may have genetic weaknesses, much the way certain chemical pollutants have impacted the egg shell thickness of birds nesting and foraging in that area.

There is now a strong possibility that once-harmless mycobacteria have opportunistically mutated into a more viral form, one capable of attacking healthier fish, including species other than striped bass.

Alarmingly, the consensus of opinion regarding fish already infected by Mycobacteria chesapeaki and schottsii is grim. The latest study indicates that badly infected fish will surely die of the disease, while even those with mild outward symptoms are doomed to eventually succumb.

I have seen how insidious these infections can be. I’ve dissected fish with only a few lesions on the skin and found the internal organs were riddled with sores, easily capable of killing the host fish. This is why there is a pressing need to determine if the chesapeaki and schottsii strains are on the move.

Complicating matters, I have dissected fish with serious skin sores and lesions that have no internal manifestations whatsoever. Those sore-laden fish are suffering bacterial infections of a far less lethal ilk. Such simple infections often clear up with cooler water conditions.

There are no indications I’ve seen that chesapeaki and schottsii infections can clear up on their own.

How long a fish can live with the infection is unknown. While that might seem optimistic, especially if infected fish can survive for years or decades, they remain carriers of the infection -- not a good thing at all. Worse yet, both symptomatic and asymptomatic (showing no signs of infection) fish might be genetic carriers, passing on the gene mutation leading to the susceptibility to chesapeaki and schottsii bacterial infections.

WORTH NOTING: I have contacted epidemiologists in Maryland to see if there have been any cases of humans contracting the infection from handling or eating infected fish. The answer is yes. It is curable in humans.

Below is some sensible reading for NJ anglers. It’s purely preparatory, should the disease work its way here this fall. It is from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, that state’s equivalent to our DEP:

Can humans get mycobacteria?
Yes. mycobacteriosis is zoonotic, which means it can be transmitted to humans. Mycobacteriosis is also called "fish handler's disease" because of cases involving people associated with fish hatcheries, aquaculture facilities and the aquarium industry.

What is fish handler's disease?
Fish handler's disease is the human form of mycobacteriosis. It is contracted through direct contact with infected fish or water.

How are humans affected?
Infections in human are generally limited to the extremities such as fingertips and feet, but may involve the joints, bones and lymph nodes. Individuals with cuts or scrapes are at higher risk for infection. The most frequent symptom is the formation of a persistent bump or nodule under the skin. Additional symptoms may include the formation of ulcers, swelling of lymph nodes and joint pain. This disease can be treated with antibiotics. A health care provider should be contacted if any of the above symptoms develop following direct skin contact with fresh or salt water or after handling or processing fish. If you have any questions or general concerns, please contact a health care provider.

How can anglers and fish handlers protect themselves?
Individuals that handle striped bass should wear heavy gloves (made of leather of heavy cotton) and boots to avoid puncture wounds from fish spines, and wash hands thoroughly after handling or processing striped bass. Open cuts or scrapes on hands and arms should be thoroughly cleansed and bandaged. Again, this disease can be treated with antibiotics, and any persons with questions or concerns should contact a physician.

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