WHATS UP WITH THESE STRIPER TUBES?

By Capt. John McMurray The Fisheries Conservation Association (formally the Staten Island and Manhattan Chapters of CCA) held their annual Manhattan Cup on May 19. Despite veritable squalls, hail storms and even a reported funnel cloud that touched down dangerously close to some of the boats out there, the tournament was a success with some quality stripers coming in by light-tackle, flyfishers and bait anglers. It’s fifth year running, it has become quite the event. I have to toot my horn here, because no one else will, but I was one of a handful of hard-working and dedicated folks that started the event for CCA back in 2000. Since then, Dave Fallon and Frank Crescitelli are largely responsible for its success. No doubt, it has put Manhattan on the board as a darn good striped bass fishery. But what’s up with these Striper Tubes? The “Striper Tube” is an apparatus developed by some folks down in South Carolina that was initially intended for use in freshwater striped bass tournaments in the Southeast. It is a vertical 40” tube with and electrical pump at the bottom that circulates sea-water over the fish's gills, keeping it alive. Although I haven’t seen one in action yet, this device apparently allows anglers to keep fish alive and healthy on their boat for an unlimited amount of time so they can participate in a live weigh-in without killing the fish. Twenty-five out of fifty-one boats were carrying Striper Tubes during the Manhattan Cup last Friday. Most of those boats returned with fish inside the tubes for the live weigh-in, and according to the NY Times, all but one fish were released alive and healthy, and that single mortality was due to an electrical problem in one of the pumps. There was some scuttlebutt that considerably more fish were lethargic upon release and need to be revived for some time, but rumors are rumors and we all know to take them with many grains of salt. Of course there’s no telling if any of these fish died a day or two after release. Several years ago, a study by Mark Malchoff of New York SeaGrant did indeed determine that striped bass, particularly the older larger fish, would die two to three days after release due to lactic acid build up. What is lactic acid build up? Physical exertion from a particularly long fight causes an oxygen deficiency in the tissue, forcing the muscles to function without oxygen (anaerobically) which in turn causes lactic acid build up in the muscle tissue which diffuses into the blood. This subsequently causes the pH in the blood to drop. Even slight changes in pH can cause disruptions of the metabolic processes which may ultimately kill the fish. If the fish is handled little and released quickly, its blood pH usually returns to normal and the fish survives. But, while fish may appear alive after a long fight, when released the imbalance in the blood chemistry may kill them as much as three days after being caught. This is why, with any species, it’s important to choose the right tackle for the job and to not fight that fish for a long time. The bottom line is the more stress you put that fish under, the more chance it has of dying. This is not speculation, this is a fact. Being in a constricting tube for a few hours, even with water circulating over the gills, has to be quite stressful for the fish. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. However, with all of this being said, it’s worth noting that a recent report from the American Fishery Society said the tubes showed a near-perfect success rate under cool-water conditions, however, to my knowledge, that report didn’t gage post release mortality a day or two after the release. The questions about the Striper Tube go even deeper than this. There is a high-grading issue to think about if they make it into the main-stream. Actually, the new FLW striper release tournament format is currently under scrutiny by the NY DEC for just that reason. The state does not permit high-grading (for any marine species). So, if an angler chooses to keep a fish for the weigh-in, the angler will have to weigh in that fish and not release it to keep another, bigger fish. Think about the application of this device for the non-tournament angler with a two fish limit that can now keep catching fish to kill, upping the size the whole time until the angler reaches his or her peak that day. All the while the angler is keeping the other fish alive to be released until he or she catches a bigger one. The net result will inevitably be a lot of stressed out fish (a good percentage of which won’t survive post release) and a one big dead fish. Not so good, right? But, with all this being said, I believe the Striper Tube will increase the interest in striped bass release tournaments. Sure, these devices may kill some, and maybe even a lot of striped bass, but it is certainly better than a kill tournament. Even if the survival rate of those bass caught and kept in a Striper Tube is 25%, that’s a heck-of-a-lot better than the icebox-mortality-rate, which of course is 100 percent. But yeah, I wouldn’t want to see them marketed to the average Joe who will probably use them to high-grade.