The Decline of Susky, Potomac and Shenandoah Smallmouth Bass: What Does It Mean To The Chesapeake Bay?

baywatershed(1)The declining numbers of smallmouth bass found in the main stem and lower Susquehanna, Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers is being recognized as a canary in the coal mine. More and more people are recognizing the fact that smallmouth bass are sensitive to environmental changes and since these rivers make up a large percentage of the water flowing into the Chesapeake Bay, we have to be concerned about the impact there.

These Chesapeake Bay tributaries are important to the health of the Bay. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation just released their report on this ongoing problem and their recommendation that the Susquehanna and other tributaries be designated as impaired so that the pollutants can be identified and cleaned up.

In their comprehensive report, The Chesapeake Bay Foundation makes a strong case for several factors such as high nitrogen and phosphorous levels as well as algae blooms that are raising pH levels. These factors can cause increased stress to the immune system of the bass, leading to numerous other diseases and damage to the reproductive system of smallmouth bass.

Over the last decade, one of the most prized freshwater sport-fish species—smallmouth
bass—has suffered fish kills and perplexing illnesses in several Bay tributaries. These tributary
rivers include the South Branch of the Potomac River in West Virginia, the Shenandoah and
Cowpasture Rivers in Virginia, the Monocacy River in Maryland, and the Susquehanna River in
Problems with the fish have included lesions, blotchy skin, wart-like growths,
excessive mucus covering their bodies, lethargic behavior, and abnormal sexual development in which males grow eggs in their testes.In the Susquehanna River, smallmouth bass populations have plummeted, with catch rates of adults falling 80 percent between 2001 and 2005 in some areas.

In addition to the environmental impact, the financial impact is large as well.

Fishing for the species is responsible for $630 million annually in sales in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, the four Bay states where fish kills and
diseases have occurred. Sales of boats, fishing rods, and more contribute to that
figure. Additionally, smallmouth bass are responsible for $193 million annually in
salaries and wages for about 5,700 people employed in fishing-related jobs and $41
million in state and local tax revenues.11

To view this report, go here: Click

This issue is now in the hands of the EPA as the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection as refused to take action. As Dr. Vicki Blazer has stated,

“It’s almost like you reach a perfect storm situation,” said Dr. Vicki Blazer, Research Fisheries Biologists for the U.S. Geological Service, and a lead researcher of the smallmouth bass. “There have been stressors and smallmouth bass have been able to overcome them or deal with them. But eventually, they get to a point where they cannot deal with them anymore.” Source

We will continue to report on this story over time. Let’s hope that this increased attention leads to a solution.


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