NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

August 21, 2012

Disease strikes striped bass

No reports of infection in fish caught in local waters

A bacteria that infects and causes lesions in striped bass apparently has not spread to fish caught in the waters off the coasts of Newburyport and the North Shore.

There have been no reports of the infected fish being caught locally, according to the state director of marine fisheries and local bait and tackle shops.

The bacterial disease is mycobacteriosis, and causes a kind of tuberculosis in fish; it is believed to trace to Chesapeake Bay.

Some fish with the lesions have been landed in waters around Cape Cod, but according to Paul Diodati, the state director of marine fisheries, “it is not something we are concerned about. We’ve known about this for some time.”

Al Williams, a commercial striper fisherman, said, “I have not seen any, but from what you hear, there are a few around.”

Diodati said state marine scientists have taken samples from stripers with the lesions and sent them to a pathologist specializing in mycobacteriosis. His report will determine “for sure” what it is, Diodati said.

The state Division of Marine Fisheries reported in mid-July that about 5 percent of stripers coastwide have the lesions, but the percentage of infection is higher in fish from southern Massachusetts, primarily Buzzards Bay and the Cape Cod Canal.

Marine Fisheries scientists said the high incidence of lesions this year may be related to warmer water temperatures this spring and summer.

The bacterium was first isolated in 1926 from dead and dying saltwater fish in a Philadelphia aquarium, and in 1951, it infected swimmers in Australia. That was the first known case of the pathogen spreading to humans, according to the website Microbe Wiki.

The disease can be transmitted by contact. Diodati said anyone touching a fish with lesions should wash with anti-bacterial soap, and, of course, fish with lesions should not be eaten.

Marine Fisheries asks that anyone who catches a striper with lesions contact the agency at marine.fish@state.ma.us and report the geographic location of the catch.

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