Sport fishermen and women, clean water activists, and everyone who cares about the health and future of the Chesapeake Bay’s largest tributary -– the Susquehanna River -– are invited to a public forum tomorrow evening (May 8) in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to discuss the plight of smallmouth bass.
The event, hosted by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore, 1302 N. Third Street in Harrisburg. The forum will feature one of America’s leading research fisheries biologists, Dr. Vicki Blazer of the U.S. Geological Survey. Dr. Blazer and colleagues discovered the existence of sexual abnormalities (called “intersex”) among smallmouth bass about a decade ago. And since then, she and her fellow scientists have been pioneering further investigations into the interaction of water pollution, parasites, and other factors in the death and disease of smallmouth bass, one of the region’s most popular sport fish.
A recent Chesapeake Bay Foundation report, Angling for Healthy Rivers, described how a “perfect storm” of pollution, parasites, bacteria, and warming water temperatures are combining to cause fish kills and illnesses in five Chesapeake Bay tributaries, including the Susquehanna, Shenandoah, and South Branch Potomac rivers.
Catch rates of smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River dropped by 80 percent between 2001 and 2005. Populations of the fish have not recovered since. Smallmouth less than a year old are dying.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently considering a petition by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to designate the lower Susquehanna River as officially “impaired” by pollution under the federal Clean Water Act, which could focus more state and federal attention on diagnosing the problem and creating a solution. A decision from EPA is due any day. So far, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has refused to list the river as “impaired,” arguing that the causes of the fish deaths are unknown.
Also speaking at Wednesday’s forum will be John Arway, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission; Geoff Smith, Susquehanna River Biologist for the state agency; and Harry Campbell; Pennsylvania Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. A representative of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has been invited.
All interested people are invited to this free event -- to listen, learn, and discuss the future of the Susquehanna River.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
(Photo at top of smallmouth bass with lesion from Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission)