Agencies say bay rockfish safe to eat



Rockfish from the Chesapeake are safe to eat and pose no significant health risks to the public, four state agencies said yesterday in a joint statement.

The release - issued by the state's natural resources, environment, agriculture and health departments - seeks to quell fears that the bay's prized rockfish - also called striped bass - have been infected with a disease that can cause skin infections in humans who handle the fish.

The Washington Post recently reported that nearly three-quarters of the rockfish in the Chesapeake Bay have the lesion-causing disease, known as mycobacteriosis. Researchers in Maryland and Virginia reported several years ago that up to 69 percent of bay rockfish might be infected. But Maryland Department of Natural Resources officials said yesterday they are aware of no new figures.

They said rockfish remain safe to eat when thoroughly cooked. They reminded anglers to wash their hands after touching fish and said no one should handle fish with open lesions.

DNR spokesman Charles Gates Jr. said the four agencies have been flooded with calls from people connected to the rockfish industry - anglers, charter boat captains dealing with cancellations, wholesalers and restaurateurs. The state, he said, just wanted to remind the public not to panic.

"At this point, there are no known human health concerns," he said.

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