xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Bay crosscurrents: Rockfish up, ospreys down

Good news this week about the Chesapeake Bay's most treasured finfish is offset by some troubling news about one of the estuary's signature birds.

Maryland natural resources officials reported their annual survey tallied the fourth highest number of young striped bass, or rockfish, in state waters in nearly six decades.

Advertisement

It was heartenng news about the bay's most prized fish for recreational anglers and commercial fishermen alike, after  several years of below-average counts of juvenile rockfish.  As my colleague Candus Thomson reported, the upper bay is the spawning ground and nursery for three-quarters of the striped bass that roam all along the East Coast.

There's been growing concern over their status lately.  Besides sub-par spawning four out of the last five years, the overall striped bass population is down 25 percent, and up to 60 percent of adult striped bass in the bay are afflicted with a deadly disease, mycobacteriosis. The  Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is weighing whether to curtail catches of them - a vote is set when the panel meets in early November.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Virginia saw similarly good reproduction of striped bass in their rivers feeding into the lower Chesapeake.

There's worrisome news out of Virginia, though, about ospreys, one of the birds that preys on fish inthe bay.  A biologist at William & Mary College reports a dramatic decline in survival among osprey chicks.  Bryan D. Watts, director of the college's Center for Conservation Biology, said in an op-ed published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch that "nine of every 10 eggs hatched, but only four of every 10 chicks survived to fledge. Chicks were hatching, but they were starving in the nest."

The Virginia biologists think the problem may be a shortage of menhaden, a forage fish humans don't eat but that is food for many other fish, including striped bass, and birds of prey like ospreys and bald eagles.  Where menhaden once made up 70 percent of young ospreys diet, it's declined to less than 27 percent, Watts reports.
Concerned by recent finding that menhaden have been overfished for 32 of the last 54 years, the Atlantic States fisheries panel is also weighing whether to curtail catches of them.  They're taken as bait by commercial fishermen and crabbers, but the bulk are caught by a Virginia-based fishing fleet and processed as animal feed and for their heart-healthy oil.  A decision on menhaden's fate also is slated in early November - the biologists suggest what's decided could affect more than just commercial fishermen.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement