...nascent outdoorsmen have been noticing disturbances in the complex chain of marine life that sustains the ocean and its estuaries. An alarming 70 percent of adult striped bass sampled in the Chesapeake Bay are infected with a serious condition called mycobacteriosis, and these ailing fish are migrating from their nursery in the bay all along the Atlantic Coast. What's wrong with the striped bass?
It turns out that the disease afflicting these magnificent predators is likely linked to the loss of a forage fish called the Atlantic menhaden.
The small, oily menhaden is known as "the most important fish in the sea" because it forms the basis of the Atlantic marine food chain. You will not see menhaden at your grocery store, but it is present in the flesh of dozens of fish species that we catch and eat.
Many highly prized fish, including striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, Atlantic tuna, cod, haddock, halibut and redfish, as well as marine mammals, sea turtles, ospreys and loons, depend on menhaden.
Menhaden used to account for up to 70 percent of the prey consumed by adult striped bass. But a recent survey by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science shows that menhaden now constitute as little as 8 percent of the striper diet.
Other studies reveal that menhaden made up nearly three-quarters of the osprey diet in the 1980s; today it's 28 percent. The survival rate of osprey nestlings in the region is as poor as it was when the use of the deadly pesticide DDT was widespread in the 1950s.
Industrial overfishing is threatening the entire menhaden population and the many species that depend on it. For the past decade, a company called Omega Protein has been grinding up nearly half a billion pounds of menhaden each year out of its plant in Reedville, Va., for use in pet food, fish meal and fish oil supplements.
As a result, menhaden abundance has declined by 88 percent in the last 25 years, to a historic low. Given the vital ecological role that menhaden plays, this is akin to a farmer who wakes up to discover that 88 percent of his soil is gone.
I have yet to see a convincing link between the lack of menhaden and the prevalence of mycobacteriosis in striped bass. I'm quite willing to believe it, but it does require more evidence than a correlative study.
Wayne Gilchrest was the 1st District of Maryland's Congressman from 1990 to 2008, when he was defeated by a primary opponent. One of the relatively few Republicans representing Maryland, Gilchrest was decidedly on the liberal side; in 2008 he fell just short of endorsing Barack Obama for president, and confessed to voting for him after the election:
On September 18, 2008, Gilchrest made radio comments praising the Democratic Presidential ticket of Barack Obama and Joe Biden, causing some media outlets to claim his endorsement of the Democratic ticket. However, Gilchrest quickly clarified these comments, saying that they did not amount to an endorsement. Despite the fact that he did not officially endorse Obama, in an October 2 Washington Post article Gilchrest sharply criticized his own party and their presidential nominee, fellow Vietnam veteran. Gilchrest said that the Republican party "has become more narrow, more self-serving, more centered around 'I want, I want, I want.'" and said that McCain "recites memorized pieces of information in a narrow way, whereas Barack Obama is constantly evaluating information, using his judgment. One guy just recites what's in front of him, and the other has initiative and reason and prudence and wisdom." Gilchrest later told WBAL-TV that he voted for Obama in the November election.
Gilchrest was ranked as the House's most liberal Republican in 2008 (his final term) by the National Journal, placing him to the left of 8 House Democrats.
Wayne Gilchrest: wrong on Obama, but (maybe?) right on menhaden.
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