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Smallmouth Bass in Big Trouble

Population in parts of Chesapeake Bay fishery collapsed

(Photo courtesy C. Yamashita/Penn., Fish and Boat Commission) (Photo courtesy C. Yamashita/Penn., Fish and Boat Commission)

By: Cash Lambert,

Throughout the last decade, one of the most prized freshwater sport fish species, the smallmouth bass, has suffered fish kills and severe, perplexing illness in several Chesapeake Bay tributaries.

In the Susquehanna River, the hotbed for the kills, populations have plummeted with catch rates of adults falling 80 percent between 2001 and 2005. Several reports indicate that the fishery still hasn't recovered, as populations in sections of the river have collapsed.

"This perfect storm of conditions has required us to restrict fishing in Pennsylvania waters in hope that we can work together to get our world-class smallmouth fishery back to where it was before 2005," said John Arway, the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. "Our fish are sick, our anglers are mad and my board and I, protectors of our fishery, are frustrated."

Causes and symptoms of the sick river include "unprecedented" algae blooms, sores and lesions, bacteria, parasites, exotic viruses and "other invasive species, some of which have never been seen before in the river."

High levels of pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus allow the growth of such parasites and their hosts, and they also feed algal blooms that raise pH levels and lower oxygen concentrations.

The fishery, responsible for $630 million in sales annually throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, is taking a financial hit as well.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation outlined its recovery efforts (link it here) in a report that includes protection, restoration, and maintaining the area. The organization, along with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, continues to seek help from federal authorities.

"It now becomes our duty to collectively implement the report's recommendations since our bass, and our grandchildren who will fish for them, are depending on us to fix the problem," Arway said.

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