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Entries in Pennsylvania (10)


Hydrilla Creeps Closer to Great Lakes

Hydrilla is creeping ever closer to Lake Erie, the warmest and shallowest of the Great Lakes. Most recently, it has been found about 20 miles away in Lake Pymatuning, a 17,000 -acre impoundment on the Ohio/Pennsylvania border.

"It is a serious situation," said Brian Pilarcik of the Crawford County Conservation District. "It can grow very fast, almost an inch a day and forms large, dense masses that can and will impact water sports and will have a negative impact on tourism in the county.

"We are very concerned that the plant could eventually reach Lake Erie."

An environmental educator at Pymatuning, Linda Armstrong added, "The lakes here get quite a bit of use and people will go from one to another, so it is critical to clean all equipment as well as boats."

Already Pennsylvania resource managers have talked with their counterparts in Florida about the discovery, with the latter promising assistance in containing the invasive plant.

Long a problem for many fisheries in the South, hydrilla was first reported in Pennsylvania during the mid 1990s, according to Pennsylvania Sea Grant (PSG).  It's also now established in Bucks County and the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. The next closest infestation to Pymatuning is Lake Arthur, about 60 miles to the south.

"Hydrilla is a federal noxious weed that continues to spread to new regions in the United States," PSG said. "It is unknown exactly where hydrilla originated, but Asia, Africa, and Australia are all mentioned in the literature as native ranges.

"Currently, Antarctica is the only continent without records of hydrilla."


Still No Plan to Address Susquehanna's Sick Smallmouth Bass

Despite evidence that smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River are ill, state and federal officials refuse to categorize the waterway as “impaired.” And until it receives that designation, a plan can’t be developed to address the problem, which probably is pollution.

"We are absolutely certain that the smallmouth bass population of the middle Susquehanna River is sick, based upon the continuing presence of lesions and tumors in young and adult bass," said John Arway, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fishing and Boating Commission (PFBC).

"We've been collecting data since 2005, and believe that these fish health issues are causing a decline in the population, which means the river is sick. It is not necessary to know the exact source or cause of the sickness before the Commonwealth declares the river as impaired."

Yet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency supported the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in its decision to exclude nearly 100 miles of the Susquehanna in its 2014 Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report.

In 2012, PFBC asked DEP to declare that section of the river from Sunbury to Holtwood Dam, near the Maryland border, as impaired. Both then and in 2014, DEP asserted that it lacked sufficient data to make that determination.

Now the earliest that the river could be declared impaired is 2016.


Arway recently spoke to the game and fisheries committee of the state House of Representatives about this issue. According to, here's what happened:

He also continued his call to have the Susquehanna River officially declared “impaired.” Once the premier flowing smallmouth bass fishery on the East Coast, it's been in decline in recent years, with smallmouth bass populations shrinking and more and more fish showing up sick, he said.

The commission, state Department of Environmental Protection and federal Environmental Protection Agency are doing a study to determine what's causing the problems, he said. A report is due by September.

After that, action needs to be taken, he said. Sick bass have been showing up since 2005, but no one's done anything but collect data since, Arway said.

An impaired designation would set the stage for a corrective plan, he added.

“We know the fish are sick. The (Department of Environmental Protection) admits the fish are sick. The question is, why are they sick and what are we going to do about it? And we haven't started down that road yet,” Arway said.


What's Ailing Susquehanna River Smallmouth Bass?

Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission photo

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.)


Northern States Warming Up to Bass Anglers

Photo by Robert Montgomery

Because of climate, management of bass fisheries in the North understandably must be different from management in the South. Northern winters are longer and more severe, while spawning and growing seasons are shorter and often more tenuous. For example, pounding winds and waves during a spring storm can nearly wipe out a year class on Lake Erie.

For decades, though, it also has been different for a myriad of reasons not related to stewardship of the resource, with bass fishing restricted as a consequence. Fortunately, that is starting to change, as evidenced by what happened recently in Wisconsin. Due in no small part to the diligent efforts of Dan Brovarney and Ken Snow in the Wisconsin B.A.S.S. Nation, that state has implemented regulations more friendly to bass anglers, including one that allows culling in permitted tournaments.

Elites Series events in northern waters also have helped. B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director Gene Gilliland pointed out that the 2012 Elite Series Green Bay Challenge “opened eyes and that allowed biologists to better understand what B.A.S.S. pro level tournaments are all about.”

They’ve also eased concerns that local residents had about possible negative impacts on their fisheries.

In general, Gilliland added, many states are moving toward simplifying regulations, but northern managers especially are warming up to the realization that bass are  popular fish deserving of more enlightened management. Most notably, closed seasons are going away, often replaced by catch-and-release.

For decades, northern fisheries managers believed that closed seasons were necessary to protect reproduction and recruitment. Now, though, evidence has begun to show that while individual nests can be harmed when male guardians are pulled off the nest, overall populations aren’t harmed. On New York’s Lake Oneida, biologist Randy Jackson found that environmental conditions are more likely to determine the success of a year class than whether anglers are pursuing bass during the spawn.  

Additionally, many managers have noted that the majority of bass anglers, no matter where they live, practice catch and release. Thus, overharvest isn’t the threat that it once was assumed to be.

Understandably, though, the farther north a fishery, the smaller the window for reproduction, and the greater the chance that it could be harmed by angling pressure.

Gilliland cited New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, along with Wisconsin, as some of the northern states being the most pro-active adopting regulations more friendly to bass anglers. Minnesota, he added, “is one of the holdouts.”

Traditionally, the conservation director explained, bass management in northern states was dictated by “legacy biology.”  In other words, it just continued to be as it always had been, with resource managers focusing on walleye, muskie, pike, and trout, while bass remained “a kind of unknown.”

“But now that bass tournaments are exposing how tremendous some of the bass fisheries are up north, they have to deal with bass management,” Gilliland said. “Most of the biologists were cold-water trained, and it was easy not to deal with it (bass management). Now, they have to deal with it.”

That assessment is confirmed by the fact that three of the top five fisheries in Bassmaster’s “Top 100 Best Bass Lakes” for 2014 are northern waters: 1. Wisconsin’s Sturgeon Bay in Lake Michigan 3. Lake Erie and 4. Lake Coeur d’ Alene in Idaho.

But Gilliland also is sympathetic to the reality that managing bass is more complicated in the North than in the South. Two of the most obvious reasons are the diversity of user groups and the vast expanses of water.

“When you’re trying to keep everyone happy and keep all of those different fisheries sustainable, it can be difficult,” he said.

A general trend toward warmer winters also “throws a monkey wrench” into the mix, he added.

Plus, tournament fishing is not nearly as popular with local residents in the North as it is in the South. Residents around those northern natural lakes view the waters as their own, and many don’t want to share them fishermen who are just passing through.

“Those people are automatically against new regulations and biology doesn’t matter. They want to limit access,” the conservation director said.

Still, regulation improvements are occurring, and managers of northern waters are to be commended for responding to their bass-fishing constituents.

(This column appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)



EPA Levies Record Fine for Water Pollution

Alpha Natural Resources will pay $27.5 million in fines as part of a settlement that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says is “the largest penalty in history” under the water-pollution portion of the federal Clean Water Act. The civil penalty is for nearly 6,300 violations of pollution limits at company sites.

Under the agreement, Alpha also will improve its water treatment practices for 79 active mines and 25 coal processing plants in West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia. According to EPA, that means $200 million will be used “to install and operate wastewater treatment systems and to implement comprehensive, system-wide upgrades to reduce discharges of pollution from coal mines.”

The Justice Department’s Robert Dreher added, “The unprecedented size of the civil penalty in this settlement sends a strong message to others in his industry that such egregious violations of the nation’s Clean Water Act will not be tolerated.”

Alpha spokesman Gene Kitts, meanwhile, said the consent decree “provides a framework for our efforts to become fully compliant with our environmental permits.”

He also pointed out that the company’s compliance rate for 2013 was 99.8 percent.

“That’s a strong record of compliance, particularly considering it’s based on more than 665,000 chances to miss a daily or monthly average limit,” he added. “But our goal is to do even better.”