The state's Fish and Boat Commission said while the Susquehanna River might look healthy according to data released by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), many fishermen looking at the river itself are coming to a very different conclusion. The Commission is asking the DEP to officially flag the river for future testing and studies.
Geoff Smith, a biologist with the commission, said "stressful" water conditions are leading to disease among young smallmouth bass.
"We've been seeing onsets of disease outbreak in young-of-the-year smallmouth bass since 2005. It first appeared in the West Branch Susquehanna, Susquehanna, and Juniata rivers. It affects young-of-the-year smallmouth bass and we've seen disease prevalence as high as 75%," Smith said.
The Commission has requested that the river be listed with other troubled rivers based on studies of fish population. The DEP has done its own independent testing of the river, based on testing of macro invertebrates like worms, snails, and insects.
Labeling the Susquehanna River as impaired would get the ball rolling on studies to get to the bottom of poor water quality and the effect it's having on fish.
Smith added that other contaminants in the waters are causing fish to be born intersex, making them unable to mature and reproduce.
G. Warren Elliott, who serves on the Fish and Boat Commission and is also an avid fisherman, said he has seen a decrease in visitors to the river as a result of the declining health and population of the smallmouth bass. "The parking lots at boat ramps used to be full of boats, not only from Pennsylvania, but routinely from Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, among others. That is not the case today," Elliott said.
Research done by the Fish and Boat Commission said fishing and boating accounts for 18,000 jobs in Pennsylvania, and $120 million annually in state and local tax revenues.