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Entries in Potomac River (22)


Snakeheads Growing Bigger, Spreading Farther Up the Potomac

Dan Moon caught this monster snakehead on a Booyah spinnerbait.

As state and federal resource managers revealed that the northern snakehead has spread into the Upper Potomac River, a local angler provided yet more evidence that these exotic predatory fish grow larger here than anywhere else in the world. That's a potential double whammy for bass and other native species.

"Part of the reason we should be worried about it is we don't really know what the impacts are going to be," said Joe Love, tidal bass program manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). "We do know that, in some cases, invasive species cost millions of dollars in damage to the ecosystem."

With the population of snakeheads in the tidal Potomac now an estimated 20,000, one concern  is that  aggressive snakeheads will outcompete bass for food, a fear that is heighted by the fact that they are growing to world-record proportions. In late June, Dan Moon boated the latest giant, which weighed 18.8 pounds on an uncertified scale.  The official world record checked in at 17-12, and was caught last year within two miles of where Moon caught his fish.

With both adult snakeheads and fry confirmed in the C&O canal above Great Falls, it seems almost certain that the invaders will spread up the non-tidal Potomac, as well as into its tributaries.

"Eradication is not possible once these fish become established in an open river system such as the Potomac," said MDNR biologist John Mullican. "We expect that these fish will eventually become a permanent part of the Upper Potomac fish community. Confronting snakeheads in the canal system is the best way to mitigate their emigration into the Upper Potomac.

Consequently, Maryland is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service to develop control strategies.

MDNR emphasized that the snakehead can be caught legally in any season and at any size. "We'd like it to be harvested if anyone catches it," Love said. "We'd like it if they took it home and possibly ate it. Anglers and archers enjoy fishing for them, which is great. And they enjoy eating them, which is great."


Human Drugs Harming Fish Fertility

Prescription drugs intended for humans are affecting our fisheries in frightening ways. That's because they or their residues are flushed down toilets and into our waterways. Birth control pills are among the most concerning because they affect fertility in bass and other species.

For example, a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey found that fish exposed to a synthetic hormone called 17a-ethinylestradiol, or EE2, produced offspring that struggled to fertilize eggs. The grandchildren of the originally exposed fish suffered a 30 percent decrease in their fertilization rate. The authors mulled the impact of what they discovered and decided it wasn't good.

"If those trends continued, the potential for declines in overall population numbers might be expected in future generations," said Ramji Bhandari, a University of Missouri assistant research professor and a visiting scientist at USGS. "These adverse outcomes, if shown in natural populations, could have negative impacts on fish inhabiting contaminated aquatic environments."

Read more here.

Additionally, check out this previous post at Activist Angler about minnows exhibiting bizarre behavior because of drugs.


Troublesome Invasive Plant Returns to Potomac River

Sassafras River Association volunteers collected these water chestnuts from creeks and streams on Maryland’s Eastern Shore

A troublesome old invasive has reared its head once again on the Potomac River. While sampling fish populations, biologists with Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries (VGIF) found a dense clump of water chestnuts, covering about ½ acre of water, near a boat rental dock in Pohick Bay Regional Park, 25 miles south of the nation’s capital.

Response was quick, as VGIF organized volunteers to hand pull the troublesome plant this past fall.

Water chestnut is probably a lot more troublesome and invasive potentially than snakeheads might be,” said biologist John Odenkirk.

“It was dense, but we got it. Hopefully, we nipped the potential for this plant to take over the bay and shut it down.”

Because it is an annual that sprouts from seeds, this fast-growing exotic is not susceptible to herbicides. It can be controlled only by pulling or mechanical harvest. The seeds have sharp needles that can attach to wildlife, clothing, and other items for transport to new areas, and they can remain viable in sediment for more than a decade. Just one acre of plants can yield enough seeds to cover 100 acres.

Native to both Asia and Europe, water chestnut was first confirmed on the Potomac in 1923, with a two-acre bed expanding to cover 41 miles of river, from Washington, D.C., to near Quantico, Va., in just two years. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the dense, floating mats restricted navigation, harmed fisheries, and killed off submersed plants with their thick canopy.

The Army Corps of Engineers mechanically harvested the infestation and the plant was considered mostly eradicated from the Potomac by 1945. But limited hand harvesting continued into the 1960s.

USGS is studying this more recent invader to determine its species and lineage. Its spiny seed pods don’t resemble those of water chestnuts found in Maryland and other states. Additionally, VGIF and volunteer stewards will keep an eye out for future outbreaks. 


Historic Access Site on Potomac to Re-Open in March

Dock repairs have begun.

Shut down in the fall because of safety concerns, one of the most popular and historic access sites on the Potomac River will re-open in March, according to the National Park Service (NPS).

Still,  resource managers are uncertain how they will  provide a long-term solution to the siltation, which forced closure of The Boathouse at Fletcher’s Cove in October. At that time, NPS declared the dock unsafe for public use, two weeks before the end of the season, and an official revealed the agency does not have the money to dredge the cove and make lasting repairs.

In response to concerns expressed in a petition by the Friends of Fletcher's Cove, a coalition of more than 400 organizations and individuals, NPS sponsored a public meeting in December, and agreed to re-open Fletcher’s in the spring.

“The Park Service made clear its commitment to fund and implement a plan that addresses the immediate need for safe access to the Fletcher’s dock,” coalition leadership told its supporters, which include Keep America Fishing, Trout Unlimited, and the Potomac River Smallmouth club.

“The more complex long-term solution to the siltation at Fletcher’s Cove will require your continued persistence and support. The Park Service anticipates a comprehensive study is needed and will develop a scope-of-work as a first step.

“Our coalition must continue to assist with this vital effort to preserve the Fletcher’s Cove experience for future generations to come.”

Important financial assistance could come from the Washington, D.C. Fisheries & Wildlife Division, according to its director, Bryan King. He said that the city has funds not being used that are “strictly for boating access.” Consequently, “we could have a grant (for Fletcher’s) off our desks in a matter of weeks.”

One possible complication is that commercial activity is not allowed where federal funds are used, and the concession at Fletcher’s is a private corporation. 

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


Potomac River Public Access Threatened

In October, 2014 an official with the National Park Service declared the walkway to the Fletcher’s Cove boat dock unsafe for public use, effectively cutting off access to the Potomac River from publicly available row boats, canoes and kayaks. The walkway, which once floated at the lowest tide, is now grounded and compromised by siltation. Unless immediate action is taken, there is a strong possibility the dock will stay closed next spring.

The continued operations of the Fletcher’s Cove concession as we now know it may be at stake. To ensure continued access to the dock in the spring of 2015, ACTION MUST BE TAKEN NOW. PLEASE mail and/or email the NPS expressing your concern and asking that it expedite a plan to save access to the river at this location.

Mailing address: Kevin Brandt Superintendent,  C&O Canal National Historical Park Headquarters Office, 1850 Dual Highway, Suite 100, Hagerstown, MD 21740-6620

Send your email request to  C&O Canal NHP Headquarters.

What follows provides more historical information and explains how we have reached this critical point in time. Please share this document or its link to anyone who will support this effort and also sign our petition to preserve river access at the boathouse.

The Potomac near its fall line has long been a cherished natural resource for the entire region. Providing access to the river since before colonials arrived, the area known as Fletcher’s Cove is a natural wonder within the boundaries of what would become the nation’s capital. Archeological digs have shown that Native Americans used this location to harvest and store fish and grain. The reliably deep water of the tidal cove also served as the first river access point for George Washington’s “Patowmack Canal.”

Early in our nation’s history, Andrew Jackson was rowed in a boat from this spot to fish for striped bass under Chain Bridge. After the Civil War the Fletcher family established a boathouse  which allowed every man to enjoy this unique location for recreation and to partake in the bounty of the “Nation’s River.”

Over a century later and now part of the C&O Canal Historical Park, Fletcher’s Cove continues to draw visitors of from all over the world. The park and boathouse there today are precious Washington, DC landmarks for residents and tourists alike.

Siltation has been a growing problem at Fletcher’s for many decades, and it is largely a manmade condition. Traditional agricultural practices and overdevelopment upstream have played an obvious role by increasing the sediment runoff. The cove’s problems worsened after the construction of Metro and the Dulles Interceptor Sewer in the 1960’s.  Excavated soil was dumped at the river’s edge just north of Fletcher’s Cove, with the intention of creating a more sheltered area for Fletcher’s Cove.

It was soon discovered that seasonal flooding deposited increased amounts of silt where it previously did not settle. The cove began to fill in at an alarming rate. In the early 1980’s a narrow channel was dug to improve flow, but it hit bedrock, often clogged with debris, and was deemed ineffective. Dredging projects that have been attempted only temporarily addressed the problem. The cove continues to fill in.

Not only is Fletcher's Cove an historic gem and a unique and vital resource for the outdoors person, but it is the ONLY access point for D.C. Fire and Rescue, Montgomery County Rescue and the D.C. Harbor Police from Georgetown to the dangerous Little Falls area. If access is closed off at this location, then response abilities to the frequent emergency incidents in the area will be severely compromised.

 To increase awareness, a coalition of river enthusiasts has drafted this statement to inform the public. It’s well worth repeating we need your help to encourage officials with The National Park Service and the C&O Canal National Historical Park to implement a solution that will maintain the boathouse and provide access to the river from Fletcher's Cove by next spring. Please help get the word out by sharing this statement with others and asking them to reach out. The following individuals and organizations currently endorse this effort. If you would like to join us and be added to this list, please fill out this petition to save river access at Fletcher’s Cove

Thanks to your support we have increased awareness. The NPS issued this C&O Canal National Historical Park News Release  announcing a public hearing on Dec. 17. Please continue to sign and spread the word.