The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other environmental groups have a new ally: a fish. The smallmouth bass is responsible for $630 million in sales, with people are buying boats, fishing rods, bait and so on in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. But smallmouth bass are in big trouble. They're suffering from sores, blotchy skin, wart-like growths, and excess mucus covering their bodies, and males growing eggs in their testes.
Scientists say there may be canaries in the coalmine, 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 smallmouth 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.