Friday, February 18, 2011

A Plan to End Myco?

Stripers Forever fighting deadly fish disease
Stripers Forever has announced an outreach initiative to raise money for research on mycobacteriosis, a deadly fish disease that is increasingly prevalent in the Chesapeake Bay where the bulk of stripers that migrate up and down the Atlantic Coast are spawned.

Mycobacteriosis is believed to be nearly always fatal to infected striped bass and can create serious health problems for anglers and anyone else handling those fish before they are cooked. Fishery scientists estimate that more than 75 percent of all striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay system are infected with mycobacteriosis.

There is no known cure for this insidious disease which represents a major threat to the well-being of stripers and thus the future of recreational and commercial striped bass fishing from Maine to North Carolina.
Mycobacteriosis, myco or fish handlers disease as it is variously called,  is a serious disease.  The genus Mycobacteria contains such pathogens as tubrculosis and leprosy.  It is a chronic wasting infection in fish, and I see many sick fish that are probably the result of myco (it's difficult to tell without opening them up, and opening your self up to the possibility of infection).  Most of the fish we see are probably infected.   I find it hard to see how we can "treat" myco in fish in the Bay.  Much like it's relative, tuberculosis, I suspect the ultimate treatment consists of discovering the factors that encourage its spread in the wild.  We know that in aquaculture situations that overcrowding, poor water quality and poor diet are associated with outbreaks. 

Maybe the answer is simply to get the water quality good (How hard can that be...) and allow them to eat the right food.  It has been proposed that menhaden are important in their diet as a source of essential fatty acids, and that lack of menhaden due to the menhaden fishery in Virginia may be a contributing factor, but I haven't seen any supporting data.  Maybe these funds could  be used to study this possibility. 

Myco is also a serious human health threat.  Humans are occasionally infected, usually by a "fish stick", being stuck by the spine of a fish, but sometimes through any open wound.  The bacterium seems to grow poorly in people and usually in extremities (near the site of a "stick"?) where it is cooler.  It can be treated and cured with antibiotics, but like tuberculosis and leprosy, it is a long, grueling course of antibiotics, as the bug is pretty well shielded by it's waxy coat. I know several people who have been infected, one more than once, as a result of handling fish at work.
The fund raising appeal being administered by Stripers Forever is called The Mycobacteriosis Research Initiative (MRI).

Donations to MRI will benefit the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), the leading authority on mycobacteriosis. Checks should be made payable to "VIMS Foundation" (write "For Myco Research" on the memo line) and mailed to VIMS Foundation, P.O. Box 1693, Williamsburg, VA 23187-8779.

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