|Williamsport, PA – Following years of declining numbers of smallmouth bass in the Juniata and lower Susquehanna rivers, the Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) today moved to protect the fisheries by placing catch and release regulations on sections of the two waterways which are currently regulated under the Big Bass Program.
The Board of Commissioners voted at its quarterly meeting, held today at the Genetti Hotel, to approve the publication of a notice of proposed rulemaking containing the proposed regulations. Pending a final vote by the board at a subsequent quarterly meeting, PFBC Executive Director John Arway signed a temporary emergency order which allows the changes to take affect Jan. 1, 2011.
“Reduced densities of smallmouth bass are likely to continue until reproduction and recruitment success improves,” said Mr. Arway. “In order to preserve good quality fishing and to protect the current population, we determined that it is necessary to place catch and release restrictions on those portions of the rivers.”
The regulations will apply to approximately 32 miles of the Juniata River, from the State Route 75 Bridge at Port Royal in Juniata County downstream to the mouth of the river at Duncannon, Perry County. On the Susquehanna, the regulations cover 98 miles, from the inflatable dam near Sunbury in Northumberland County downstream to the Holtwood Dam in York County. The regulations also will apply to tournaments, which will be prohibited during the bass spawning period in the spring. During the remainder of the year, only catch-measure-immediate release tournaments will be permitted.
Smallmouth bass populations are an issue because catch rates from PFBC surveys on these sections have fallen in recent years, compared to high population levels of the mid-1990s, but catch rates on the West and North branches of the Susquehanna have not dropped.
Historically, decreases in catch rates have been attributed in part to decreases in young-of-year recruitment, which is tied into river discharges in late spring. High discharges tend to lead to reduced densities of young smallmouth bass, whereas lower spring discharges tend to lead to higher densities. The pattern has continued on the North Branch, but since 2002 recruitment on the main stem has been consistently below average. Since 2005, the PFBC has documented that low water flows and relatively warm water temperatures have been associated with high incidences of Columnaris bacterial disease in young-of-year bass. At the same time, water tests have found relatively low dissolved oxygen levels in critically important near-shore nursery areas for young bass.
“We continue to work in partnership with other state and federal agencies to identify the causes of low recruitment and disease,” said Mr. Arway, who added that the issues are challenging a broad spectrum of scientists from state and federal resource management agencies.
The proposed changes will be published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin as a notice of proposed rulemaking and public comments will be accepted for 90 days after the official publication. After reviewing the public comments, the Commission is expected to consider adoption of the changes at its April quarterly meeting.
In other action today, the Commission:
- Approved two easement acquisitions along the Little Juniata River in Porter Township, Huntingdon County, which will provide public fishing opportunities on 11,923 linear feet of this premium fishery.
- Approved a property exchange in which the PFBC will transfer four acres of property, including a vacant house and barn, along Piney Creek in Woodbury Township, Blair County, in return for approximately 2,025 feet of Class A stream frontage along Piney Creek and a cash payment.
- Approved the publication of a notice of proposed rulemaking soliciting public comments regarding several proposed boating regulation changes, including one which would make it unlawful for a boat operator to use docking lights while underway except when docking and the boat is travelling at a slow, no wake speed and is within 100 feet of a dock, mooring buoy or shoreline. Another proposed change would impose a no-wake zone on the Clarion River from the mouth of McGourvey Run to the mouth of Blyson Run. For more information on submitting comments, visit the PFBC website at: http://fishandboat.com/reg398.htm.
- Adopted amendments which prohibit the collection of live, freshwater mussels/clams anywhere in Pennsylvania.
- Approved the publication of a notice of proposed rulemaking which would allow anglers to fish with three lines. The current regulations limit anglers to fishing with no more than two lines at one time. The public will have 60 days to provide comments. For more information on submitting comments, visit the PFBC website at: http://fishandboat.com/reg398.htm.
- Approved the following quarterly meeting dates for 2011: Jan. 24-25, April 11-12, July 11- 12 and Sept. 26-27.
A complete copy of the meeting schedule and the full agenda for the meeting can be found on the Commission’s web site at http://fishandboat.com/minutes.htm.
The mission of the Fish and Boat Commission is to protect, conserve, and enhance the Commonwealth’s aquatic resources and provide fishing and boating opportunities. For more information about fishing and boating in Pennsylvania, please visit our website at www.fishandboat.com.