Keeping healthy fish healthy

October 20, 2006

The cheery news this week from two scientific teams is that seafood lovers can put aside many of their fears about eating fish. Reports in The Journal of the American Medical Association and from the Institute of Medicine conclude that most consumers' health stands to benefit by dining on moderate amounts of fish, particularly those containing high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for the heart.

And though environmental groups warn that increased seafood consumption could lead to overharvesting, the Chesapeake Bay's striped bass - also called rockfish - face a different problem at the moment. One way to address it would be to start catching younger ones.

Overfishing and pollution so devastated the bay's striped bass population that a statewide moratorium on catching them was imposed in 1985. The fish rebounded and the moratorium was lifted, but studies reveal that more than half of the bay's striped bass are sick with mycobacteriosis, the so-called fish handler's disease. The fish appears to be susceptible to the bacteria when its immune system is weakened from a lack of food, including the small menhaden still commercially harvested in Virginia's waters.

It may not make sense to allow the striped bass to grow so big that they face starvation and disease. Allowing anglers to take more of them from the bay by lowering the size limit from 18 to 16 inches is one remedy the state Department of Natural Resources should consider. Such a measure would be better for the fish - and the seafood lovers.

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