(HARRISBURG, PA)—The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) says the discovery of cancer in a smallmouth bass caught on the Susquehanna River provides further evidence that more must be done to clean up the river and its tributaries, and that the river should be declared an impaired waterway.
"Declaring the river to be impaired assures the state and federal governments will remain vigilant in studying why this is happening and to develop a plan to fix it," CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell.
In 2012, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC), CBF, American Rivers, and PennFuture, unsuccessfully petitioned the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to add the river to the state's bi-annual list of impaired waterways. DEP is expected to release its 2016 list of impaired waters later this year.
The PFBC announced this week that a malignant tumor was found on a smallmouth bass caught by an angler late last year in the middle Susquehanna River. The recent finding is the first time this type of tumor was found on a smallmouth bass in the Commonwealth. The cancer was confirmed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a laboratory at Michigan State University.
In the meantime, biologists continue to find sores and lesions on young-of-year bass during late spring and early summer surveys at alarming rates. Researchers have also been finding intersex fish—adult male bass with female eggs in their testes—since the early 2000s.
Anglers first reported diseased and dying smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River in 2005 and catch rates have continued to decline.
The 2013 CBF report "Angling for Healthier Rivers," showed that Pennsylvania's most popular warm water game fish could be threatened by high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, pesticides, endocrine disrupting chemicals, and parasites.
"Sediment and nutrient runoff from farm fields and suburban and urban lawns and hard surfaces are two of three leading sources of stream impairment," Campbell said. About 19,000 miles of Pennsylvania's rivers and streams are impaired. The Susquehanna provides half of the freshwater that flows into the Chesapeake Bay.
"The smallmouth bass situation is perplexing," Campbell added. "The exact sources and causes of the ailment are still to be found. Scientific studies show the river and the streams that feed into it contain too much pollution. Reducing that pollution may not completely solve the problem, but it certainly will help."