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The striped bass, which can grow upwards of 45 kilograms (100 pounds), is a prize catch for sport fishers in the San Francisco Bay area—especially in recent decades, when big ones have been harder to find. Yet something other than fishing is causing the striped bass populations in the Bay to tumble dramatically. Years of study is revealing that many factors are to blame. They include pumping bay water for agriculture, invasive aquatic organisms, and pollution run-off from homes, industry, and farms.

A new study by University of California-Davis biologist David Ostrach and colleagues reveals the legacy of the chemical burdens on the bay's striped bass. The team compared the offspring of fish collected from the bay with those raised in a lab-based hatchery. The results show that everyday chemicals in the bay (such as those in pesticides and flame retardant materials) are accumulating in the fish over many generations. This is disrupting the development of the fish. "The striped bass is a sentinel for the health of this estuary," says Ostrach. The finding, he says, underscores the need to reduce harmful chemicals in use today and test more carefully the chemicals of tomorrow.