Executive Review: 2019 Mid-Atlantic Smallmouth Bass Health Assessment
"Anglers, fishing guides and fisheries biologists all have noticed a precipitous decline in the number of smallmouth bass inhabiting our Mid-Atlantic rivers over the past few years. Where have these fish gone and is this just a naturally occurring cycle or an indication that something is amiss in the water itself? These were just some of the questions that were on the mind of the Shenandoah Riverkeeper Mark Frondorf and state and federal fisheries biologists as Frondorf pulled together the Mid-Atlantic Smallmouth Bass Health Assessment to investigate this matter further. This is not an idle academic exercise either as the smallmouth bass fishery and river guide industry generates close to 700 million dollars per year in the Mid-Atlantic, representing a significant economic driver in the region.
The event took place at the National Park Service Mather Training Facility in Harpers Ferry, WV on 8 August 2019. In addition to the fisheries biologists working their respective rivers, Dr. Vicki Blazer, USGS Fish Health Branch, shared her valuable insights as she has conducted research on all of the rivers in question and collaborates with many of the state fisheries biologists. Fishing guides from each of the watersheds also attended and shared their valuable insights and perspectives as they have witnessed the unfolding of this story on an almost daily basis.
Concern centered on water quality and quantity and the need for more data to better understand the issues. We produced this executive summary from notes taken during the Assessment but the reader needs to keep in mind that while the author has a STEM degree, it’s in political science, not fishery science, so for a more complete picture of the data conveyed, we suggest you peruse the slides presented at the Assessment by the biologists.
The Shenandoah, Potomac (including the Upper Potomac) and Susquehanna have witnessed the decline of the overall smallmouth bass population, with the disappearance of one to two-year-old smallmouth bass being most pronounced. Smallmouth bass are very sensitive to water quality. Are they the “canary in the coal mine” indicating a widespread water quality problem?"