The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Rave

March 27, 2012

How many canaries must die?

People who know the Susquehanna River best are worried. That alone may be reason enough for the rest of us to give pause. If not, the photos in Sunday's edition of The Daily Item will do the trick.

Since fall, three or four of every 10 fish caught by anglers in the Susquehanna River have turned up with alarming black splotches.

Carl Shingara, who operates a tackle shop in Shamokin Dam said he has fished on the river for 50 years. Until last year, he had never noticed the type of abnormalities that are becoming common. He is far from alone. Dr. William Yingling, a retired physician, brought the situation to the attention of the newspaper. Yingling said a friend of his caught a blotched bass on Friday near Winfield, on the West Branch. Another angler reported to him a similar catch near Towanda, on the North Branch.

Bob Bachman, a member of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission urged the state and federal governments to launch investigations to determine what is causing the problem.

Concerns about water quality have been accelerating in recent years. One potential threat comes from pharmaceuticals that work their way into the water because conventional sewage treatment systems are not equipped to remove the drugs from the water. Researchers suggest there could be a link between pharmaceuticals in the water and "intersexing," a condition in which fish have the sexual organs of both genders.

Fisherman, such as Yingling, wonder whether treated gas drilling waste water might be to blame. A Shamokin Dam power plant was treating water used in drilling until last year. The state Department of Environmental Protection ordered treatment plants to cease discharging gas drilling wastewater into waterways such as the Susquehanna River after chemicals were found in drinking water in western Pennsylvania. The Fish and Boat Commission has formed a Susqueuhanna River Policy Committee with representatives from the environmental regulatory groups, the Department of Agriculture and wildlife agencies.

It can be a challenge to establish discernible links between a specific practice and a biological abnormality. There is something clearly wrong with the river.

In the old days, miners would know to evacuate when the canaries perished, signally a carbon monoxide build-up. We have fish with hideous markings. We have fish with sexual abnormalities. What other warning sign are we waiting for?



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