Pennsylvania

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Krancer Rejects Request to List Susquehanna River as “Impaired”

Courtesy of William Yingling

Black spots on a fish caught in the Susquehanna River.

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer has rejected a request from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to list the Susquehanna River as “impaired” under the Clean Water Act. Fish and Boat Commission executive director John Arway wrote a letter to Krancer April 4, describing increased incidents of “black-spotted” fish turning up in the river.

Arway says the appearance of black spots on adult fish is new, and only seen since last summer. A survey showed 40 percent of the adult small mouth bass within a section of the river had black spots. So far, no one has an answer for what’s causing the lesions. Possible causes could be hormonal changes from endocrine disrupters, viruses or other environmental causes.  Arway says intersexing, which can be caused by endocrine disruptors, is occurring among fish in the Susquehanna River and urges Krancer to conduct more studies.

“Unfortunately, the type and quality of data needed to characterize the contaminants leading to endocrine disruption in the Susquehanna River are lacking,” wrote Arway. “While the science behind monitoring these parameters is still developing, knowledge of this information as part of this investigation is of utmost importance.”

Arway also told Secretary Krancer that Shad stocks are not making it down river to the ocean.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact PA

Scientists study aquatic life at a headwater stream that feeds into the Susquehanna River.

The listing, known as 303(d), would mean the river would come under certain federal criteria for discharges of pollutants, and studies would be prioritized to determine what is causing disease among the fish. States create new lists every two years. The public comment period for this list ends on May 22.

But Krancer says the data does not exist to list the Susquehanna River as “impaired” under the federal statute. In Krancer’s letter to Arway, he says Arway’s own Fish and Boat Commission has been telling anglers there’s nothing to fear from these black splotches, and that they’ve been documented on fish since 1980.

“Since we do not know what the stressor to the fish is at this point,” wrote Krancer, “there is nothing to appropriately or with factual support impair the river for.”

Krancer says that doesn’t mean research will not continue to figure out the cause of the black splotches. But he says so far, the cause “remains speculation.”

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