WVU and Citizen Scientists Go Fishing for Spotted Bass Syndrome Answers | Today

Melanotic hyperpigmented lesions, or spotted bass syndrome, on the surface of black bass have been observed in several water bodies across the country with increasing frequency.
(Photo/Megan Schall)

Researchers at West Virginia University will have the chance to better understand a condition affecting bass to an unknown extent through data collected from citizens through a mobile app.

brent murrylecturer in aquatic ecology at the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Eastern Ecological Science Center hope to uncover information about spotted bass syndrome, a condition characterized by distinct areas of hyperpigmentation – or black ink-like spots on the skin – in black bass populations.

With a grant from the US Geological Survey totaling $314,975, the team plans to examine the prevalence, distribution, seasonality, and potential risks and impacts that are still unknown. To do this, WVU and the Geological Survey are partnering with Angler’s Atlas and Bass Pro Shops to have citizen scientists collect data across the United States and Canada to help investigate the condition.

“We’ve partnered with Angler’s Atlas, which has developed a phone app anglers can use to upload photos and locations of fish they catch,” Murry said. “We are interested in all species of black bass: smallmouth, largemouth, spotted and related.

Additionally, a research grant from Bass Pro Shops & Cabela’s Outdoor Fund is supported by customer roundups and used for conservation issues such as the unknown impact of Spotted Bass Syndrome.

“Partnerships like this are vitally important to protecting our wildlife and ensuring our grandchildren have the same outdoor experiences as we do today,” said Bob Ziehmer, senior director of the conservation of Bass Pro Shops. “The Outdoor Fund unites the passion of our 200 million customers with the groundbreaking capabilities of our conservation partners to create the largest conservation movement in North America.

The movement, Blotchy Bass Bonanza, will be accessible through Angler’s Atlas’ free MyCatch smartphone app. The month-long event started on July 1 and runs until November 30. Citizens and community members are encouraged to report all bass, whether spotted or not, to help researchers better understand the distribution and prevalence of the disease in black bass populations.

“Fisherman submissions will allow us to determine which states [and areas] whether or not they harbor the disease, what season it becomes most common, and finally what percentage of fish show signs of it,” Murry said. “We will be able to share this information with state agencies and use the results to guide more specific next steps aimed at assessing impacts.”

Recent research from the Eastern Ecological Science Center suggests an association between spotted bass syndrome and emerging viruses known as adomaviruses. Little is known about the prevalence of spotted bass syndrome in the United States and Canada.

“Is it bad? ‘We don’t know yet’ is the short answer,” Murry said. “It’s becoming more common and anglers are increasingly alerting state fisheries agencies. These state fisheries biologists want answers to share with the public.

There have been reports from various states, but there has been no full investigation. With the information gathered, more relevant questions can be asked, such as which sea bass species are susceptible and which seem immune. The answers to these questions could alter management and response activity. However, further investigation is based on obtaining a large data set with the Blotchy Bass Bonanza.

“Our results will be as strong as the degree of participation we get,” Murry said.

Weekly raffles of $50 Bass Pro Shops gift cards will be randomly awarded to contributors. Additional drawings will also be available for people specifically submitting spotted bass reports.

To participate, go to Fisherman’s Atlas website.



Acting Marketing and Communications Director
Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design
304-290-8680; [email protected]

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