State Agencies at Odds Over River, Fish Problems

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The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission wants nearly 100 miles of the Susquehanna River considered impaired, all because of a collapse in the smallmouth bass population.

State environmental regulators, however, will not get on board.

While fishermen cast their lines, looking for a bite in the Susquehanna River near Selinsgrove there’s a controversy swirling around what’s in the waters.

The PA Fish and Boat Commission wants 100 miles of river, from Sunbury southward, to be designated as impaired, or needing environmental attention.

This week, the PA Department of Environmental Protection passed on the chance.

“There’s chemical pollution in the water which is causing this, it’s insidious, you can’t see it. You can’t touch it, you can’t feel it, smell it or taste it,” said Dr. William Yingling who claims that pollution has something to do with smallmouth bass dying off in the Susquehanna River.

Yingling, a fisherman for more than three decades in these parts, also started noticing black spots on the bass being pulled from the river and said studies to find out what’s causing it, or what the black spots are, are incomplete.

“We still have to look more at these fish and find out why did they have the black spots, it’s not normal,” said Dr. Yingling.

If the Susquehanna River were to be designated impaired, then the state would have two years to develop a strategy to improve the levels of pollution, according to state officials.

Avid fishermen do not see a harm in that unless it changes the way they can fish.

“Studies would never be a bad thing, depends on the regulations that would be put on fishing, whether I think it would be good,” said Dan Barnhart of Herndon.

DEP Secretary Mike Krancer said the agency does recognize there are issues facing smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River.

“The actual cause of these issues has not yet been determined or linked to any particular water quality issue, but DEP is dedicated to finding the answer through a disciplined scientific approach,” said Krancer.

Fish and boat officials urge concerned citizens to appeal to lawmakers and the Environmental Protection Agency in order to have that nearly 100-mile stretch of river designated as impaired.

“The collapse of the smallmouth bass population supports an ecological impairment designation and the associated decline in sport fishing and boating continues to support a recreational use impairment designation,” said PA Fish and Boat Commission Executive Director John Arway. “To refuse to accept and recognize these facts suggests that other factors associated with these designations may drive the decision not to list.”