Chesapeake Bay Foundation Sounds Alarm on Susquehanna River

The smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River are sick.  Anglers have been finding diseased and dying fish in the Susquehanna for years and the smallmouth bass population is suffering.  “Smallmouth bass are the canary in the coal mine for the bay’s rivers,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation president Will Baker. 

The CBF has just released a 28-page report, which documents what they are calling a perfect storm of pollution, parasites and warming water temperatures. 

This graphic from the CBF report shows where diseased and dying smallmouth bass have been found.

This graphic from the CBF report shows where diseased and dying smallmouth bass have been found.

“In the Susquehanna River, especially, state and federal officials must move immediately to reduce pollution and to formally designate the river as impaired under the authority of the federal Clean Water Act,” Baker said on a Thursday conference call with reporters from throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.   

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) did not designated the Susquehanna as impaired when it released its Integrated Waters report in January, but the agency is calling for a comprehensive, year-long study of the Susquehanna to conclusively determine what is ailing the smallmouth bass. 

But the CBF and Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission are calling on the federal Environmental Protection Agency to reverse the state’s decision based on its authority under the aforementioned Clean Water Act. 

Such a designation for a 98-mile stretch of the Susquehanna River, from Sunbury to the Maryland state line, would allow for the immediate implementation of an action plan.  As Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission executive director John Arway explained, they don’t want to be studying the river until the last fish dies.

Advocates Want Treatment, Not Just Testing of Susquehanna

The entire Susquehanna River basin will be the subject of extensive testing and sampling for the remainder of 2013.  The Department of Environmental Protection’s new 2013 Susquehanna River Sampling Plan calls for tests to be run on water quality, sediments, pesticides and fish.  It’s all in hopes of finally putting to rest the mystery surrounding diseased and dying smallmouth bass. 

The public can track the DEP’s ongoing analysis online.   

Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission executive director John Arway tells Radio PA the DEP’s plan recognizes the Susquehanna is sick and in need of study, but doesn’t do anything to start cleaning up the river. 

“We need to begin treating the river, we need to put a plan together to fix the river while we continue to do the kind of studies the DEP is proposing,” Arway says. 

Distressed smallmouth bass first started turning up in the Susquehanna in 2005, and while no exact cause has been pinpointed Arway says there are solid theories that can be acted upon now

For instance, Arway says, they’ve noticed high levels of nutrient runoff from farms and lawns.  “A lot of our soils were oversaturated with those nutrients and they’re getting into the river causing aquatic plants – the algae – to grow, which takes the oxygen out of the water and causes stress to the young bass that live in the river.”

“If you go to our boat launches… you’ll see maybe only one or two boat trailers when they used to be packed with boat trailers before,” Arway says, noting that some anglers refuse to fish the river anymore.  The Susquehanna River used to be a haven for smallmouth bass fishermen. 

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation had a similar reaction to the DEP’s 2013 Susquehanna River Sampling Plan. 

(photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service)

New Life Jacket Regulations to Take Effect

From November 1st through April 30th, boaters will be required to wear life jacket while on a boat less than 16-feet long, as well as all canoes & kayaks.  Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission spokesman Eric Levis says a disproportionate number of boating fatalities occur during these cold weather months. 

Levis tells Radio PA that life jackets will save you from drowning in the event of cold water shock.  “If you’ve ever been in cold water, and I have, it becomes very difficult to swim.  Your body is cold, you’re shivering, you may start hyperventilating.  The life jackets will help.” 

The Commission passed the new, statewide regulation earlier this fall.  It will be in effect annually during the colder months. 

The Fish & Boat Commission has also approved a mentored youth fishing pilot program, which will be rolled out in the southeast region this coming March – the weekend before the regional trout season opens.  Levis says details on which waters will be involved, and how to register, are still being finalized.

Bill Could Help Hook More PA Anglers

An unprecedented decline in fishing license sales is being tracked nationwide.   Pennsylvania is no exception, as the Fish & Boat Commission reports 1.4-million PA anglers in 1996, compared to just under one million in 2006.  With those numbers in mind, the commission is working to get more Pennsylvanians engaged, and they believe SB 1049 would be a big boost. 

John Arway

Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission executive director John Arway

The legislation would provide the Fish & Boat Commission with more flexibility to make licenses more convenient and less expensive.  “We could look at ideas like a multi-year license, which is one of the prime alternatives that we would look at if this bill passes,” says Fish & Boat Commission executive director John Arway.  “Our potential approach to this would be that there may be some cost savings to the anglers to, if they do it for five years or three years, instead of just one year.” 

Florida, Georgia and Kansas currently offer multi-year licenses, and all indications at this week’s public hearing were that the program has been a success in those states.  Other possibilities, if SB 1049 were to become law, are group licensing and promotional discounts. 

“It’s just part of a process that we’re trying to create to encourage more people to get fishing in Pennsylvania.  We have many other things to do, but this is the first step,” Arway said in an interview with Radio PA.  SB 1049 is expected to come up for consideration in the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee later this fall.  

Photo credits: PA Fish & Boat Commission /

Walleye, bass and trout in eight Pennsylvania waterways have been tagged.

Pennsylvania “Fish-For-Free” Day lines Up with National Promotion

Walleye, bass and trout in eight Pennsylvania waterways have been tagged in conjunction with Cabela’s “Wanna Go Fishing for Millions?” promotion.  Registered fishermen, who catch a tagged fish, win a prize.  The promotion is already underway, but PA Fish and Boat Commission spokesman Eric Levis says it coincides perfectly with their annual “Fish-for-Free” day on Labor Day, May 30th.

The Fish and Boat Commission will be holding special events, on “Fish-for-Free” day, at six of the waters where the tagged fish can be found.  Levis says they want more people to come out and fish.  “It’s a fun sport, and our experience is that when families come out with their kids… the kids love it, the parents love it, and they realize that it’s a great recreational activity.”

Levis notes that anyone can fish for free on Memorial Day, across the state.  You don’t have to go where the promotion or special events are taking place.  The next “Fish-for-Free” day, during which no license is required, will be Labor Day, September 5th.