Health problems suffered by smallmouth bass in the lower Susquehanna show the river should be declared impaired, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said Thursday.
The foundation released a report on the popular sport fish that it says is an indicator of the health of freshwater rivers and streams in the bay watershed.
Smallmouth bass are sensitive to environmental changes and have been suffering lesions, intersex traits and other problems that can indicate possible future health problems in other species, the foundation said.
John Arway, director of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, appeared on a conference call announcing the release of the report, which he said provided further evidence the lower Susquehanna should be declared impaired.
In January, Arway said state environmental officials weren’t sharing information about the decline of fish populations in the river and said the state should ask the EPA to designate part of the river as impaired, which would require the states to develop a pollution reduction plan.
“We believe there’s enough information, the Fish and Boat Commission does, to make the listing now,” Arway said, adding the state has taken the river off its list of unimpaired waterways and is studying the river.
EPA spokeswoman Terri White said the agency was reviewing Pennsylvania’s waterway filings and had not decided yet on the status of the lower Susquehanna. Once a waterway is designated as impaired, states have between eight and 13 years to develop limits for pollutants creating the impairment, White said.
Pennsylvania DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday said the data so far doesn’t support an impairment designation. Sunday said the department has also found bass dying in waterways with pristine water quality, so it is not clear what pollutants would have to be reduced if the lower Susquehanna is declared impaired.
The report also found that even though smallmouth bass are an introduced species, they have become a major part of the region’s culture and economy.
CBF President Will Baker said smallmouth bass fishing supports 5,700 jobs. The report found fishing for the species is responsible for $630 million in sales in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. And that means they are closely tracked by fisheries regulators, helping track the health of waterways.