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SNYDER: Don't let cancer-stricken, Susquehanna bass scare you away from fishing


Is it time to quit fishing?

Time to trade the rod and reel for the remote control?

If you've heard the news over the last week, the idea may have crossed your mind. I hope you don't take the notion seriously.

Here's the scoop. Last November, an angler just upstream of Harrisburg caught a smallmouth bass with a large tumor on its head. It certainly was a gruesome sight. But worse, tests show the tumor was malignant.

Now what? What's it mean when we have cancer-stricken fish in our waters?

From here, it's a waiting game. We need to see if this is a one-of-a-kind case or is part of a widespread problem. Most likely, it's the former. It's important to understand this is the only known case of cancer in a smallmouth bass throughout the state.

But the agency in charge of managing the state's fisheries are taking the news as an opportunity to remind anglers and regulators that many question marks surround the river.

"As we continue to study the river, we find young-of-year and now adult bass with sores, lesions and more recently a cancerous tumor, all of which continue to negatively impact population levels and recreational fishing," said Fish and Boat Commission Executive Director John Arway. "The weight-of-evidence continues to build a case that we need to take some action on behalf of the fish."

Arway's last sentence is important. Once again, he's asking for help. For several years now, Arway and the commission have been practically begging the state's Department of Environmental Protection to add the Susquehanna River to its list of impaired waterways. So far, the cry has fallen on deaf ears.

"If we do not act to address the water quality issues in the Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania risks losing what is left of what was once considered a world-class smallmouth bass fishery," Arway said. "DEP is expected to release its 2016 list of impaired waters in late fall. We are urging them once again to follow the science and add the Susquehanna River to the list."

Hopefully the news this week gives the idea of listing the river some renewed attention. Although recent surveys show the river's bass population is recovering (especially in York County), there is little doubt there's something wrong in the river. It deserves our full attention.

But should you give up fishing?

Should you don a hazmat suit before you cast a line into the river?

Absolutely not.

Again, this is a very rare instance and there's no evidence that the cancer-stricken fish poses a threat to humans.

But most important, the Susquehanna's bass have been protected by catch-and-release rules for several years now. You're not allowed to keep one if you wanted to. In fact, for the next month or so, it's illegal to even target bass in the river. During this critical annual spawning period, biologists want to remove all stressors from the environment including the threat of meal laced with a hook.

The bottom line is there is absolutely no reason to panic or draw conclusions. We know one fish was sick – but it's one fish out of thousands of very healthy fish. Hopefully it brings renewed attention to our beloved and troubled river.

But I sure hope it doesn't stop you from casting a line.

Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at