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Entries in Pennsylvania (9)

Thursday
Mar192015

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.

Update

Arway recently spoke to the game and fisheries committee of the state House of Representatives about this issue. According to Triblive.com, 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.




Monday
Sep152014

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.)

Thursday
Jun262014

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.)

 

Tuesday
Jun172014

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.”

Thursday
Jun122014

Pollution Reduced, But Goals Not Reached for Cleaning Up Chesapeake Bay

Progress is being made in reducing the pollution flowing into Chesapeake Bay, according to a report. But the news is not all good, as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) announced, “Many jurisdictions fell short in implementing practices that reduce pollution from agricultural sources and urban and suburban polluted runoff.”

In 2010, the Bay states--- Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia --- and the Environmental Protect Agency set pollution limits that would restore water quality in the Bay, as well as the rivers that feed it. Additionally, the states made two-year milestone commitments to take specific actions to ensure progress was being made to achieve the agreed-upon pollution reductions.

Reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants exceeded 2013 goals, but “our analysis shows that implementation of some important practices like forested buffers and urban stream restoration lag behind what is necessary to achieve long-term goals,” CBF said.

What’s at risk if those long-term goals aren’t achieved? The list is long. For starters, there are the multi-million-dollar bass fisheries in the Bay’s many tributaries, with the Potomac being the most notable.

And how about this? Five-hundred million pounds of seafood are harvested each year from the Bay. Also, it’s one of the few places left in the world where an industry exists harvesting oysters from the wild.

Additionally, this unique ecosystem supplies as much as 1/3 of the nation’s blue crabs annually, and striper fishing carries an economic value to the area of about $500 million per year.

“We are not on pace anywhere to meet our 2017 and 2025 goals,” said Jill Witkowski, director of the Choose Clean Water Coalition. “If we’re planning to run a race, so far we’ve done a good job on our couch to 5k. But if we want to run a marathon, we have a long way to go.”

Runoff from farms is one of the biggest threats to the continued health of the Bay, as close to one-quarter of the land in its watershed is devoted to agriculture. Thus, it is the single largest source of nutrient and sediment pollution entering the Bay.

“While conventional tillage, fertilizers and pesticides can be beneficial to crops, their excessive use can pollute rivers and streams, pushing nutrients and sediment into waterways,” CBF said.

Key Findings:

• Maryland met or exceeded five of seven selected goals, including animal waste management systems, forest buffers, grass buffers, upgrading stormwater systems and septic regulations. It failed to meet tree-planting goals and didn't set a goal for urban forest buffers.

• Delaware reached or surpassed four of its seven selected goals, wetland restoration, cover crops, bioretention and urban tree planting. It fell short on animal waste management, grass buffers and septic system connections.

• Virginia met two of eight milestones evaluated: stream access control with fencing and urban stream restoration. It fell short on forest buffers, conservation tillage, composite agricultural practices, modern stormwater practices, urban nutrient management and composite urban practices.