I can’t say this is the news we’ve been waiting for, but it is something positive.
It’s at least one step closer to a long-term solution.
If you’ve been following the sad saga of the Susquehanna River's smallmouth bass, you know it’s been a tale with far more questions than answers. Until this week, just about the only thing we knew was something was wrong. Bass were sick and dying.
We didn’t know why they were sick. Or even how many fish were sick. And we certainly didn’t know what was killing these beloved, once-prolific fish.
And, to be frank, we still don’t know. But we’re closer to an answer. I think.
On Monday, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) announced the results of an extensive study. It says the two most likely causes of the woes in the smallmouth bass population are endocrine-disrupting compounds and herbicides; and pathogens and parasites.
It sounds like four things to me, but folks much smarter than I am promise me it’s really just two things. I’ll do my best to explain.
Endocrine-disrupting compounds are, in the simplest terms, chemicals that have the ability to disrupt an animal’s hormones. Many plastics and household chemicals contain them. So do herbicides.
As for pathogens and parasites, simply think of both of them as things that get inside an animal and cause some sort of harm or disease.
What’s interesting here is that neither of these causes stands out as a culprit of its own. Instead, biologists tell us it’s most likely some sort of relationship between the two factors. For example, nasty chemicals could be weakening the fish, preventing them from fighting disease.
What else is notable in this report is that it largely ruled out several other potential causes of problems. In fact, the study started by exploring 14 variables (such as water temperature, habitat and dissolved oxygen). Narrowing the focus to just two causes represents a significant breakthrough.
But let’s be clear. We’re still a long way from knowing exactly what ails the river’s bass and, just as important, knowing how to fix it. Officials have not hesitated to admit it.
“The health of the smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River continues to be compromised,” said PFBC executive director John Arway, “and this analysis rules out certain causes, prioritizes other uncertain causes for further study and most importantly identifies likely causes which can be targeted for action.”
As sportsmen, this sort of news stirs anxiety. We know we’re making progress. But it’s tortuously slow.
For me, it begs a question. What can we do about it?
You can get directly involved. On the heels of this week’s announcement, the PFBC made the bold move to launch a fundraising effort. It teamed up with the Ralph W. Abele Conservation Scholarship Fund and launched a site where folks can directly contribute to the Save Our Susquehanna effort the agency launched this summer.
"Direct fundraising is an unusual step for a state government agency,” Arway said, “but we thought that there are many people who care about the river and would want to be able to contribute to our ‘S.O.S. — Save Our Susquehanna’ campaign.”
To contribute to the effort, go to FirstGiving.com and simply search for “Abele.”
We still don’t have the answers we want. But with some more research and the always-generous support of the state’s sportsmen, we can continue to make progress.
These fish are worthy of our attention.
Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com.