When I became involved – much to my surprise – in a campaign to save the Atlantic striped bass in the early 1980s, I must confess I knew next-to-nothing about the environment. Most recently I’d been a staff writer in TV Guide Magazine’s Hollywood bureau, doing profiles on folks like Bob Hope. I was, however, enamoured of recreational fishing – and especially the vaunted striper, a wily fish known to get as big as 100 pounds.
So, when the striped bass suddenly disappeared, I became involved in a grassroots campaign to curtail overfishing, one that ended up changing my life. I became a journalist/activist, organizing fishermen coastwide into a coalition that ultimately resulted in a fishing moratorium. The resurgence of the striped bass is today considered the primary global example that, if you give an endangered fish a fighting chance, it will come back.
In telling this story in my new book, Striper Wars: An American Fish Story, I came to realize that this particular fish truly is “the aquatic equivalent of the American bald eagle.” Striped bass enabled the Pilgrims to survive their first winters, were the subject of our first conservation and then fishery management laws, and later became the fulcrum behind the first environmental impact statement and passage of the National Environmental Policy Act.
Now they are a harbinger of something else: the need for more holistic, ecosystem-based management of all our fisheries. They are imperiled once again in the Chesapeake Bay due to a shortage of their food-of-choice, the Atlantic menhaden. That story, we shall examine tomorrow.