- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2002

OFF HOWELL POINT, Md. (AP) Five years after a potentially deadly disease was detected in wild striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay, there's still no proof that it has killed any. In fact, fishery managers say, the Chesapeake's population of rockfish is thriving.
Lisa Warner and Beth Rodgers, who have been tracking rockfish populations since the early 1990s, said they have noticed the fish have been looking healthier since 1999.
Bay rockfish were in especially bad shape then. Anglers and scientists reported that most of the fish they caught were emaciated due to mycobacteria. Nearly half had skin sores associated with the disease.
Yet, fishery managers say they've seen record-setting batches of offspring in 1993 and 1996, and another large group last year, raising the question of what kind of effect the disease has had on the population.
One study showed that 8 percent to 13 percent of Bay rockfish caught had skin sores. Maryland and Virginia researchers also found internal infections, sometimes accompanied by severe organ damage in as little as 38 percent and as much as 69 percent of fish caught in the Bay.
The disease gained attention in the early 1990s, when scientists at Maryland's Cooperative Oxford Laboratory reported a large amount of rockfish with skin sores, said laboratory director Steven Jordan. Concern increased after the Pfiesteria outbreak of 1997, which mainly affected another variety of fish, but drew attention to the rockfish sores.
"We really don't know the effect on [wild] fish," Mr. Jordan said. "Some have said, 'They're all going to die,' and others have said there may be circumstances under which they can heal."
Soon after, Wolfgang Vogelbein, director of the aquatic animal disease laboratory at Virginia Institute of Marine Science, found the culprit: mycobacteria, an aquatic member of a large family of organisms.
The effect of the disease remains a mystery, but if the fish Miss Warner is pulling out of the water are any indication, they may be getting healthier.


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