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Entries in pollution (46)

Sunday
Apr242016

Intersex Male Bass Found in Lake Champlain Tributary

Sixty to 75 percent of male smallmouth bass in a tributary of Lake Champlain are "intersex," meaning they bear eggs.

The watershed for the Missisquoi River already has been a cause for concern because of runoff agricultural pollution that feeds blue-green algae blooms in the lake.

"The alarm to me is that these chemicals are present. They're in our water. They're in our food. We're exposing ourselves to them. To me, that's the alarm," said Vicki Blazer, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist and one of the report's authors.

She added that humans aren't exposed in the same way that fish are, since they aren't constantly in the water and our drinking water is treated. "But that doesn't mean we're not exposing ourselves to many of the same chemicals."

James Ehlers, executive director of Lake Champlain International, added, "I think they're basically Franken-fish. It's a canary in a coal mine, except it's bass in a river, and there's something monstrously out of balance in the natural system."

The herbicide atrazine could be a possible cause, as could the hormones contained in livestock wastes from factory farms.

"The big thing to me is that we don't truly understand the mix of things fish and other organisms are exposed to," Blazer said.

Intersex bass also have been found in the rivers and streams near and in wildlife refuges in the Northeast, as well as the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Friday
Apr222016

Action Needed to Save Everglades, Florida's Coastal Fisheries

If you follow news related to fishing, you know that an environmental disaster has unfolded this year in Florida. That's because we  altered the ecosystem in the southern part of the state decades ago to protect people living around Lake Okeechobee from flooding.

Much of the water that should be flowing south to nourish the Everglade and Florida bays is diverted to the east and west coasts. This year especially, those enormous slugs of contaminated freshwater have been catastrophic for coastal fisheries.

Congress and the state of Florida need to act--- and quickly--- by appropriating funds and redirecting much of that water toward the Everglades, both to revitalize that unique system and stop the coastal decimation.

Here's what the National Wildlife Federation has to say:

This year, the Corps has already flushed record amounts of water from Lake Okeechobee east through the St. Lucie and west through the Caloosahatchee to relieve the pressure on the dike. This sends billions of gallons of polluted freshwater into the St. Lucie Estuary, Indian River Lagoon, and the Caloosahatchee Estuary – estuaries critical for the health of our sportfish – while too little went south to the Everglades and Florida Bay.

The visibly dark, polluted discharges prompted Governor Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency in several counties, but the damage was already done. It’s a disaster for sea grasses and the delicate balance of salt and freshwater so vital to estuarine life. A disaster for those who make their living relying on the health of these ecosystems.

Congress and the Florida legislature need to spend the money needed to change the plumbing diagram and send the water south, in the measured amounts on a proper schedule, and in the right condition: clean. That means implementing CERP (Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan).

Not spending the money now will cost us all and it will potentially wreck an economy that depends on us to want to fish there. The experts have drawn the diagram of the pipes. It’s time for our political leaders in Washington and Tallahassee to pay the plumber.

Last month, Florida legislators took a step in the right direction by approving the Legacy Florida Act (HB 989/SB 1168), a bill requiring the state to set aside up to $200 million each year for Everglades restoration projects that implement CERP, and $50 million to fund springs restoration. The money comes from Florida’s Amendment 1, which dedicates resources to buy, restore, and manage conservation and recreation lands in Florida. The funding stream set up by Legacy Florida, specifically intended to carry out projects outlined in CERP, will help protect America’s Everglades and the fish, wildlife, and people who depend on it.

Go here to learn more and to sign a letter on behalf of your business or organization, asking Congress to restore the Everglades.

Friday
Sep042015

Sick Susquehanna Bass Fishery Needs Your Help

Smallmouth bass with a malignant tumor was caught by an angler in the Susquehanna River near Duncannon, Dauphin County. Photo by PFBC

Neglect destroyed a world-class bass fishery at Florida's Lake Apopka. Fifty years later, is history about to repeat itself on Pennsylvania's Susquehanna River, as well as Chesapeake Bay, which it flows into?

Since 2005, anglers and fisheries biologists with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) have noted lesions and sores on smallmouth bass, as well as a declining population because of what is believed to be disease-related delayed mortality in young-of-year fish. In 2013, the Washington Post noted that Susquehanna's smallmouth bass might be the "canary in a coal mine" regarding the river's health. Last June, the U.S. Geological Survey found intersex bass, likely a consequence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, in three Pennsylvania waterways, with the highest incidence in the Susquehanna.

More recently, officials documented the first cancerous tumor. The discovery made media headlines both because of its rarity and the ominous overtones that it conveys regarding the health of this river that provides 50 percent of the fresh water flowing into Chesapeake Bay, site of a recent Elite Series tournament.

"As we continue to study the river, we find young-of-year and now adult bass with sores, lesions, and more recently a cancerous tumor, all of which continue to negatively impact population levels and recreational fishing," said John Arway, PFBC's executive director. "The weight of evidence continues to build a case that we need to take some action on behalf of the fish."

To PFBC's credit, it has been sounding the alarm about the "sick" fishery for years, as well as lobbied the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to categorize the lower portion of the river as "impaired."  The Chesapeake Bay Foundation also has petitioned for that designation, as have the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited and American Rivers. Until the waterway receives that designation, a comprehensive plan can't be developed to address the problem, which probably is pollution.

But DEP has argued that it makes recommendations based on water quality and not species health.  Thus far, it has refused to recommend that the Susquehanna be included on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) impaired waters list.

 "Although we share the continuing concerns about the health of the smallmouth bass population, we do not have sufficient data at this time to scientifically support listing the main stem of the Susquehanna as impaired," the EPA said in a statement.

In other words, for government bureaucrats, sick fish do not equate to a sick river. Yeah, it probably was something they ate.

Prompted both by the inaction of environmental agencies and concern for the future of this world-class fishery, the PFBC recently launched a "Save Our Susquehanna!" campaign so that the smallmouth fishery doesn't die of neglect. And it's going to need your help.

Until the end of this year, PBFC expects to take in at least $3 million from sales of about 130,000 resident and non-resident fishing licenses. When it reaches that threshold, funds from additional sales will be dedicated to projects aimed at reducing pollution in areas of the river where diseased fish have been found. To kick start the effort, the agency already has pledged $50,000, and, once anglers provide a matching amount, work will begin.

Those who purchase licenses also can show their support by buying "Save Our Susquehanna!" buttons for $10 each. Both are available at PFBC's Online Shop, as well as from licensing agents around the state. Finally, people can contribute by sending checks made out to the campaign to PFBC, P.O. Box 67000, Harrisburg, PA 17106.

"Protect the waters of the river, and you protect the waters of the bay," said B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director Gene Gilliland. "Purchasing a fishing license or making an additional donation is an investment in the future of river smallmouth and Chesapeake Bay largemouth bass fisheries."

Arway added, "The Susquehanna River is sick and someone has to take steps to fix it before it is too late. We need leadership to begin working on fixing problems that we know exist."

Despite spending millions of dollars on rehabilitation projects in recent decades, Florida resource managers have been unable to restore Lake Apopka's bass fishery to what it once was. Sadly, it seems, they waited too long. Let's hope  that the Susquehanna and Chesapeake Bay fisheries do not suffer similar fates.

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

 

Monday
Jul272015

Early Warning System Created for Harmful Algal Blooms

Lake Erie algal boom. Photo by Michigan Sea Grant

Four federal agencies have joined forces to create an early warning system for toxic and nuisance algal blooms (HABs) in the Great Lakes and other freshwater systems.

Harmful algal blooms have emerged as a significant public health and economic issue that requires extensive scientific investigation,” said Suzette Kimball, acting director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

USGS, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will use satellites to gather color dates from freshwater bodies during scans of the Earth. They then will share the findings with state and local agencies so they can provide public health advisories when needed.

“In addition, the project will improve the understanding of the environmental causes and health effects of these cyanobacteria and phytoplankton blooms in the United States,” NOAA said in a press release.

NOAA added that these blooms are a global problem. “Cyanobacteria (blue-green alga)  is of particular concern because it produces toxins that can kill wildlife and domestic animals and cause illness in humans through exposure to contaminated freshwater and consumption of contaminated drinking water, fish, or shellfish,” it said.

HABs have been on the increase since the mid 1990s, according to Michigan Sea Grant College Program. In the Great Lakes, malfunctioning septic systems, products with phosphates (dishwater detergent) and nitrogen (lawn fertilizers), and urban and agricultural runoff likely have contributed.

“Some scientists also link the increase of harmful algal blooms to the invasion of zebra and quagga mussels in the Great Lakes and the ability of the mussels to filter feed,” Sea Grant said. “Essentially, they eat the good algae and phytoplankton but release organisms like blue-green algae back into the water intact.”

HABs annually cost the nation about $64 million because of loss of recreational usage, additional treatment for drinking water, and decline in waterfront property values. In August 2014, Toledo, Ohio, an algal bloom in Lake Erie forced Toledo, Ohio, officials to temporarily ban consumption of drinking water supplied to more than 400,000 residents.

The new collaborative network will build on previous NASA ocean satellite sensor technologies created to study microscopic algal communities in the ocean, which play a role in climate change, ocean ecology, and the movement of carbon dioxide between the atmosphere and ocean.

Monday
Jul132015

Noise Pollution Can Hinder Fish Reproduction

We know that water pollution can harm the ability of fish to reproduce. But noise?

Yes, noise pollution can as well, according to scientists at the University of Auburn who looked at blacktail shiners spawning in tributaries of the Chattahoochee River.

To attract mates, male shiners emit bursts of sounds, similar to a cat’s purr, and, to help protect eggs in the nest, they make popping sounds that warn away intruders. They do so in streams that already are “noisy” with water flowing over rocks and down small waterfalls.

And nearby road traffic noise can mask shiner communication even more, reported Daniel Holt and Carol Johnston in Biological Conservation.

Using hydrophones, the researchers determined that the shiners, similar to other species, have developed an ability to communicate via a “quiet window” in the spectrum of natural noise. But road traffic noise, especially trucks crossing nearby bridges, overlap that window and potentially drown out the fish talk as far as 12 kilometers away.

“In order for an acoustic signal to be an effective source of communication, the signal must be successfully detected and interpreted by the intended receiver. One potential barrier to acoustic communication is background noise,” the scientists said.

“Our calculations suggest that road traffic noise propagates to an extent that virtually entire watersheds are impacted by this noise pollution, especially in urban areas.”