Canaries in the Coal Mine?
1:40 pm
Thu April 25, 2013

Threatened Fish May Be Health Indicator

Credit August Rode/Flickr via Chesapeake Bay Program

Virginia and other Chesapeake Bay States are under orders from the EPA to reduce the amount of phosphorous and nitrogen going into our rivers and streams, but a new report adds urgency to the cause. 

Sandy Hausman reports.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other environmental groups have a new ally – a fish. 

The smallmouth bass is responsible for $630 million in sales – people buying boats, fishing rods, bait and so on in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.  But smallmouth bass are in big trouble – suffering sores, blotchy skin, wart-like growths, excess mucus covering their bodies and males growing eggs in their testes.  

Scientists say they may be canaries in the coal mine – warning of pollution that will eventually kill other fish.  Biologists say more study is needed, but they fear a perfect storm is taking a deadly toll on small mouth bass – the combination of nitrogen and phosphorous pollution from cities, farms and factories, rising water temperatures and chemical contaminants may have weakened the fish’s immune system, making them more susceptible to bacteria, viruses and parasites.

Nitrogen and phosphorous also spur the growth of parasites and promote algal blooms that raise pH levels in water and lower oxygen concentrations – again, stressing fish.  

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation says states are making good progress in cleaning their rivers and streams, but we may need to pick up the pace if we want to save one of the most popular sport fish in the nation.