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John Arway interview on the Susky
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Mike Bleech: We cannot afford to lose a world-class fishery


MIKE BLEECH, Erie Times-News

John Arway, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, left me with this thought about the decline of the Susquehanna River smallmouth bass fishery:

"I don't want to be the director when the last bass is caught from the river."

Our telephone interview Tuesday was like a fisherman-to-fisherman conversation in some ways. Arway is a serious fisherman. He speaks on this issue as a professional, and from his heart. He recalled years ago, long before he was high in the Fish and Boat Commission ranks, that he fished the Susquehanna directly across from Harrisburg and caught a hundred smallmouth bass in an evening. Now, in that same place, he might catch a half-dozen.

Has the Susquehanna River slipped from the lofty status as a world-class fishery?

"Yes, it dramatically has," Arway said.

The Susquehanna has fallen on hard times. Arway said it's in serious trouble. The least successful spawn was recorded in 2005.

Problems with smallmouth bass intensify heading downriver. By comparison, the West Branch and North Branch have not declined as drastically. Unfortunately, the middle and lower parts of the Susquehanna were the heart of the great smallmouth fishery.

Some anglers, even guides, have yet to realize the full extent of the problem. It is young-of-the-year smallmouth that are dying in great numbers. Larger smallmouth remain in reasonably good health and fair numbers. During spring and fall, these adult smallmouth congregate so they are easy to locate and easy to catch.

Various factors combined to bring about the decline of the Susquehanna smallmouth fishery. Environmental conditions -- some natural, some caused by man -- weakened the smallmouth, which increased their susceptibility to diseases.

At first, scientists thought that Columnaris bacteria was the cause of mortality in young-of-the-year smallmouth. Later, they learned that another problem was Aeromonas bacteria.

Arway said that most of the effort was spent studying the relationship between oxygen and the health of smallmouth bass. The bass were being weakened by low levels of dissolved oxygen. This, however, is just one link in a chain of factors.

Increased algae growth was lowering the level of dissolved oxygen. This was happening at night, to the greatest extent in side waters that are used extensively by young smallmouth bass. At night, algae continues to photosynthesize, but it doesn't produce oxygen.

Nitrogen and phosphorus levels were going down. This would be thought to reduce the growth of algae in the river.

"That's the strange twist to this story," Arway said.

Although the total phosphorus load in the river was going down, dissolved phosphorus was increasing. No cause has yet been found.

This is only part of the reason behind low oxygen content. Warmer-than-normal water was a contributing factor.

Another factor was chemicals, including birth control and antibiotics, were suppressing the natural immunity of the bass.

Vicky Blazer, who works with the U.S. Geological Survey, discovered higher levels of transgender fish than anywhere else she had studied. Transgender fish are males that produce eggs, or females with testosterone.

Although not all of the answers to the problem have been learned, Arway says it is time to take the next step.

"We've got to take some action, and the first thing is to admit the river is in trouble," he said.

What that means specifically is to get the Susquehanna River on the list of impaired waters in Pennsylvania.

At this point, I had to express my bewilderment that it was not already on the list.

"It baffles me, too," Arway said. "I believe the fish are making the decision for us."

Once the Susquehanna River is on the list of impaired waters, and that is approved at the federal level, then steps toward fixing the river and restoring the smallmouth bass fishery to world-class status can begin.

That will require the cooperation of state and federal agencies. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is limited in what it can do.

"We need to protect the fish that are left. That's the only action the Fish and Boat Commission can do," Arway said.

Special regulations are designed to stop fishing over the spawn. From Tuesday through June 15, targeting or attempting to catch bass is not allowed in a 98-mile section of the Susquehanna River from the inflatable dam at Sunbury downstream to the Holtwood Dam, and in a 31.7-mile section of the Juniata River from the State Route 0075 bridge at Port Royal to the mouth, plus in all tributaries of both sections upstream for a half mile. All bass that are hooked accidentally must be released unharmed without removing them from the water. Fishing tournaments are not allowed during that period. During the remainder of the year bass fishing is allowed on a catch and immediate release basis. Catch-measure-and immediate release tournaments are allowed in this period.

MIKE BLEECH can be reached by e-mail at mikeb73@verizon.net.


Link to source: http://www.goerie.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2012304299866

Posted on: 2012/5/8 7:02


Re: John Arway interview on the Susky

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Good article afish! It's good to see that they are admitting that there's a problem.

Posted on: 2012/5/8 7:29
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Re: John Arway interview on the Susky
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Good link - thanks Afish.

Although this interview revealed no new information......clearly Arway "gets it" and it's reassuring to this humble fisherman that the PFBC Director continues to re-iterate his concern for the Susky.

A lot more study is needed.

Posted on: 2012/5/8 8:05


Re: John Arway interview on the Susky
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With regard to the impaired waters classification for the Susky. I believe the River is as impaired as PAFFers at 2am at the Jam. We should all do what we can to see the River is put on the list to get it some help from the Fed.

Posted on: 2012/5/8 8:25


Re: John Arway interview on the Susky

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" We should all do what we can to see the River is put on the list to get it some help from the Fed"
Any suggestions on how to do this? Who should be contacted?

Posted on: 2012/5/8 9:03


Re: John Arway interview on the Susky

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There probably is no "silver bullet" with regards to the Susky's problems. IMO, it is more of a "perfect storm" creating the demise of the fishery. No simple solutions, that's for sure!

Posted on: 2012/5/9 20:03


Re: John Arway interview on the Susky

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Quote:

wgmiller wrote:
There probably is no "silver bullet" with regards to the Susky's problems. IMO, it is more of a "perfect storm" creating the demise of the fishery. No simple solutions, that's for sure!



Makes you wonder if fixing just one of the problems would be enough

Posted on: 2012/5/9 20:18
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Re: John Arway interview on the Susky

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I agree the susky is on the decline with the SM. On the other hand some of the tribs that I fish have never been better SM fisherys, then they have been in the past few years. Sometimes you gotta take the good with the bad. An hope that something turns around for the better.

Posted on: 2012/5/10 20:33
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Re: John Arway interview on the Susky

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Quote:

Sometimes you gotta take the good with the bad. An hope that something turns around for the better.


That's the problem, dude! It won't get better unless people get involved and the state spends money.

Bob Clouser screamed until he had a sore throat. He sued the government, but didn't win. Clouser used to complain more than anyone! His fly shop and guide service went under...... now he fishes for the "golden bones" with his fly rod.

Overpopulation can't be stopped. All the building has already been done. And maybe the biggest problem....... the bottom three dams have 150 million tons of heavy metal slop that will soon go into the Chesapeake Bay. Snot grass algae everywhere and the river now has a mud bottom. Thirty years ago it was gravel.

I try to stay hopeful, but I really think it's too late to turn the lower river around.

Posted on: 2012/5/12 1:59


Re: John Arway interview on the Susky

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Quote:

Phish_On wrote:

Sometimes you gotta take the good with the bad. An hope that something turns around for the better.


Or you could do something about it. Which is what John Arway is proposing. I agree with him on this. Find out what is causing the problem, and fix it.

Posted on: 2012/5/12 9:26


Re: John Arway interview on the Susky

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No sh!t you gotta do something about it. I'm not saying to do nothing an hopes it fixes it self.

Posted on: 2012/5/12 12:41
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Re: John Arway interview on the Susky
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Another link about the chemicals, contaminants, and lesions found on the diseased fish.

http://www.srbc.net/programs/docs/wqac101310smb.PDF


Posted on: 2012/5/21 11:16


Re: John Arway interview on the Susky

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Quote:
Another factor was chemicals, including birth control and antibiotics, were suppressing the natural immunity of the bass.

My wife and I took a vacation to the rainforest in Belieze in March, and remarked how much better we felt by the end of the week ... and we didn't think it was *just* due to the time off .... after all, I'm retired! My neuropathy had subsided, and numerous other symptoms we have between the 2 of us had eased.

Not sure if it was due to less chemicals, less microwave, less whatever. The locals noted how low the cancer rate is there.

All the chemicals and other unnatural aspects of US life can easily be having cumlative effects that we've not measured yet.


Posted on: 2012/5/22 16:23


Re: John Arway interview on the Susky

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Posted on: 2012/5/22 16:39


Re: John Arway interview on the Susky
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Posted on: 2012/5/28 8:21



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