Report: Smallmouth bass show Susquehanna impaired

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BALTIMORE (AP) — Health problems suffered by smallmouth bass in the lower Susquehanna show the river should be declared impaired, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said Thursday.

It released a report on the popular sportfish that the group says is an indicator of the health of freshwater rivers and streams in the bay watershed.

Smallmouth bass are sensitive to environmental changes that have led to lesions, intersex traits and other problems that can indicate possible future health problems in other species, the foundation said.

John Arway, director of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, appeared on a conference call announcing the release of the report, which he said provided further evidence the lower Susquehanna should be declared impaired.

In January, Arway said state environmental officials weren't sharing information about the decline of fish populations in the river and said the state should ask the EPA to designate part of the river as impaired, which would make it eligible for additional federal funding and studies. The secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection responded at the time that the request was not supported by existing data or the law.

"We believe there's enough information, the Fish and Boat Commission does, to make the listing now," Arway said, adding the state has taken the river off its list of unimpaired waterways and is studying the river.

Telephone calls by The Associated Press seeking comment on the report from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the federal Environmental Protection Agency were not immediately returned Thursday.

The report also found that even though smallmouth bass are an introduced species they have become a major part of the region's culture and economy.

CBF President Will Baker said smallmouth bass fishing supports 5,700 jobs. The report found fishing for the species is responsible for $630 million in sales in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. And that means they are closely tracked by fisheries regulators, helping track the health of waterways.

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