Bass have recovered from die-offs and deformities enough that the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission on Tuesday will consider reopening a fishing season for them on sections of the Susquehanna and Juniata rivers.
The proposal would let anglers catch and release largemouth and smallmouth bass on the Juniata and the middle and lower sections of the Susquehanna between May 1 and June 11.
Targeting bass during those months has been illegal since 2011 when the commissioners imposed a ban because young bass were dying and older bass were showing lesions, tumors and other maladies.
The commissioners also required anglers to release any bass they catch, a rule that will remain in effect year-round and include tournaments.
Bass tournaments won’t happen between the first Saturday after April 11 and the first Saturday after June 11. The rest of the year, anglers in tournaments will measure bass that they catch and then release the fish, the proposal before the commissioners says.
On Tuesday, the commissioners also could give final approval to allow year-round fishing at Harveys Lake, where fishing currently stops during the first two weeks of April.
Along the Susquehanna in 2005, anglers and researchers began reporting a drop in numbers of bass less than a year old. They also have found bass with dark spots, tumors, lesions and intersex, a condition when egg precursors develop in male bass.
Three years ago, the commission joined other state and federal agencies in a study that looked at 14 possible causes of those problems, from high water temperatures to toxic chemicals, to determine what troubled bass.
Findings reported in December 2015 identified endocrine-disrupting compounds and herbicides and pathogens and parasites as the most likely causes. Now, researchers seek to find how those substances and organisms enter the rivers.
Anglers and friends of the river began making donations and buying buttons marked with an S.O.S. for Save Our Susquehanna through a campaign the commission started.
The commissioners’ agenda for Tuesday states the no-fishing rule has been “largely unenforceable,” and bass have met benchmarks for relative size and numbers in recent multi-year surveys.
Samples released last month showed that bass populations climbed in 2016.
Researchers stunning fish on the Middle Susquehanna in 2016 caught 150 smallmouth bass per hour, an increase from 50 bass per hour from the two previous years and from less than 25 per hour in 2005.
Bass, however, still show signs of disease, the commission said.
Commission spokesman Eric Levis said benchmarks haven’t been disclosed yet, but the commissioners will discuss them during a public work session on Monday.
After that, benchmarks will be reviewed in a transparent process, the agenda says.