Despite its refusal to declare the Susquehanna River impaired last year, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) says that it will continue intensive sampling of what was once a world-class smallmouth fishery.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission asked for the designation, as fingerlings continue to die, adults carry ugly lesions, and eggs show up in the testes of male fish. Additionally, an estimated 80 percent of the bass seem to have disappeared from the central part of the state, where the North and West Branches meet, down to Conowingo Dam in Maryland.
The 2014 plan calls for analysis of fish tissue for pesticides, PCBs, and metals. Also biologists will look at insects, mussels, and other invertebrates, as well as sample the water for sediment, pollution, and pesticides.
At 464 miles, the Susquehanna is the largest river to drain into the Atlantic, and its massive watershed of 27,500 square miles includes portions of New York and Maryland, as well as nearly half of Pennsylvania.
“Over the last two years where we tremendously enhanced our examination efforts, DEP has learned a great deal about the health of the Susquehanna River,” said Secretary E. Christopher Abruzzo.
“It is important to continue these efforts so that DEP can create policy and regulation based on facts and sound science.”
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation believes that a “perfect storm” of conditions have contributed to the sick and declining smallmouth population, with pollution from farms and sewage plants, low dissolved oxygen, rising water temperatures among the contributors. These stressors make the fish more susceptible to bacteria, parasites, and diseases that might not have affected them in the past.
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)