Susquehanna Smallmouth

PITTSBURGH — Scientists working to solve the smallmouth bass issues on the Susquehanna River recently issued their first official finding: Dissolved oxygen levels in Pennsylvania's premier smallmouth fishery were well below normal when the kills occurred.

 Future studies, though, may be hampered by funding cuts that forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to shut down more than a dozen real-time water-flow gauges in late September. Some, including one in Harrisburg near some of the large die-off areas, also provided water-quality data.

 "Our monitoring for bass is critical during hot summer weather, so shutting off the Harrisburg gauge now won't directly impact the smallmouth study," said Kent Crawford, a waterquality specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey, the lead agency in the $392,000 study.

 "But wouldn't it be nice if we could have year after year transmission of data, and ways to compare flow and quality in one part of the watershed with another?"

 Overall, this year's water flow and temperatures — and fewer young-of-year bass — made for lower mortality than during the hot, dry summers of 2005 and 2007 when massive numbers of juvenile smallmouth bass went "belly up" in the Susquehanna watershed, according to John Arway, environmental director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, which partnered in the study.

 "Columnaris [bacteria] killed the fish, but they were already weakened by other factors. We just haven't identified what they are yet," Arway said. Nor have scientists officially identified the source of nutrient overload that caused oxygen-depleting algae blooms in the river, although "sewage treatment and agricultural runoff are suspected."

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