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Jerry Vovcsko

First dunked a worm in Otsego Lake (upstate NY) some 68 years ago and began pursuing striped bass in Cape Cod waters 40 years ago. Pretty soon I should be able to get it right...maybe.

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December 30, 2013

Frilled Sharks, Carnivorous Fish and Killer Lakes

by Jerry Vovcsko

Less than forty eight hours from now we'll be saying adieu to 2013 and welcoming the New Year into town. Maybe 2014 will be the year that those seals crowding the Chatham beaches figure out a way to co-exist with the great white sharks that have made the Chatham area a way station on their pelagic travels. It's pretty certain local striped bass populations are rooting for the sharks because these voracious seals have been feasting on the stripers over the years and that's a less than pleasing situation for Cape anglers who would just as soon see the seals thinned out a bit.

But even with hungry Great Whites cruising around the Chatham beaches, there are other locations around the world that prove even less inviting to folks looking for places to wet a line. Take, for instance, beautiful Lake Karachay, a Russian lake so tainted by nearby nuclear facilities that it's considered perhaps the most polluted place on the planet, a lake so polluted that spending an hour there would kill you! Scientists studying the lake region in 1990, concluded that just standing on the shore for an hour would give you a radiation dose of 600 roentgen, more than enough to kill you. (On the plus side, lakefront property is probably really, really cheap.)

The lake sits squarely within the Mayak Production Association, one of the biggest and most porous nuclear facilities in Russia. The Russian government kept Mayak secret until 1990, and spent that period of "out of sight, out of mind" existence experiencing nuclear meltdowns and dumping waste into the river. When Mayak's existence was finally acknowledged, there had been a 21 percent increase in cancer incidence, a 25 percent increase in birth defects, and a 41 percent increase in leukemia in the surrounding region of Chelyabinsk.

Lake Karachay is now chock-full of concrete that's intended to keep radioactive sediment away from shore. Downstream water in the Techa river has almost no radioactive cesium, though you still can't drink the upstream stuff and the riverbanks will be dangerous for hundreds of years. Kind of makes those great whites look a lot better, doesn't it?

And it looks like fishing is expected to be banned near the Atlantic islet of Rockall after a rare methane gas vent in the seabed and two new shellfish species were discovered by British scientists.The methane, which leaks through a so-called "cold seep" vent in the ocean floor, was found last year by scientists working with the government agency Marine Scotland. It is the first of its kind to be found near UK waters and only the third in the north-east Atlantic. Scottish scientists detected it after Marine Scotland's Scotia survey ship trawled up two new species of deep-water clam that have a "chemosynthetic" relationship with the methane: the clams' food source is a bacteria that harvests the gas. That tells scientists there may be a complex ecosystem around the mouth of the vent.

Francis Neat, the Marine Scotland scientist who oversaw the survey, said the site roughly four miles west of Rockall Island was comparable to the complex habitats that build up around often exceptionally hot mineral-rich hydrothermal vents found on mid-ocean ridges. The clams were "packed full" of polychaete worms that are also expected to be new to science, he said. The International Convention on the Exploration of the Seas, an intergovernmental agency which polices fish stocks in the North Atlantic, has now recommended a fishing ban for the site, which is international waters, to protect it from highly damaging bottom trawling. It has also requested additional fishing bans – adding to several already in place - at three other sites around Rockall to protect rare cold-water coral, sea sponge colonies, and sea fans or gorgonians which are being harmed by bottom-trawling. The agency's surveys around Rockall also caught a frilled shark, an ancient "living fossil" species of shark that dates back at least 90 million years and is rarely seen in northern waters.

Meanwhile, our southern hemisphere neighbors might not be dealing with great whites, nuclear wastes or methane gas vents, but they've got fishy problems of their own. A surprise attack by a school of toothy fish recently injured 70 people bathing in an Argentine river, including seven children who lost parts of their fingers or toes. The director of lifeguards blamed the attack on palometas, "a type of piranha, big, voracious and with sharp teeth that can really bite."

Paramedic Alberto Manino said some children he treated lost entire digits. He told reporters from the local TV channel that city beaches were closed, but it was so hot that within a half-hour many people decided to take their chances with the toothy fish and went back to the water. A nice little comment on human nature.

Which brings us back to Cape Cod and wintry conditions much the same as we bumped into last week. But the weather-meisters tell us we have several days of frigid conditions coming our way the rest of the week and before that's over we should have at least four inches of solid, reliable ice cover to make it possible to drop bait and lures through the ice so now's the time to get the shacks, tip-ups and the rest of the gear ready for a foray out on the hard water at a pond of your choice. My number one recommendation would be Peters Pond over Sandwich way…trout, bass, perch and the occasional salmon can be plucked from its waters on any given day.

The New England Patriots turned loose 250 pound running back LeGarette Blount on the Buffalo Bills and he shredded the hapless Bills with 189 rushing yards and another 145 or so bringing back kickoffs – a nice day's work indeed. In the end the Pats dropped 34 points on their final regular season opponent which earned them a bye in the opening playoff round. Now we fans can sit back and watch the run for the Super Bowl…and it looks like the playoffs may well include a Manning-Brady rematch. It doesn't get a whole lot better than that, folks.

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