Trees, chainsaws and the Gunpowder River
A commentary
Low water level on the Gunpowder River above Masemore Bridge in the winter of file photo
Strainer: An opening or openings where water can flow through, but a solid object such as a person or boat cannot. Usually formed by trees on the banks, or by rocks on top of one another with water flowing through them. One of the most dangerous river features.

Earlier this month several members of the Greater Baltimore Canoe Club decided to remove a large tree that fell into the Gunpowder River near Falls Road three years ago. The paddlers viewed this obstruction as a danger to paddlers so using chainsaws and muscle power, they cut the tree into small chunks about two-feet long right up to the bank. On the club's forum page they posted photos, names of those involved, and their intentions of totally clearing more than 11 miles of 'strainers' from the river.

Although their intentions were good, this was an illegal act in a state park. The Gunpowder River is a protected trout fishery and their actions destroyed habitat at a time when low water flow is already causing stress on aquatic wildlife. The 'strainers' are home for the Gunpowder trout, offering protection from predators, a spot to rest out of the current, an area to spawn and a source of food (insects).

The issue was covered in
The Baltimore Sun, The Washington City Paper, North Country and The Backwater Angler blog.

The president of the Greater Baltimore Canoe Club has also put out a call to the membership to begin mending fences with the local Trout Unlimited chapter and fish and game officials. His note is reproduced below as published in the Greater Baltimore Canoe Club forum.

This was a very unfortunate event. Anglers AND paddlers should stop finger-pointing and work together to protect the Gunpowder River, a true natural treasure of our area.

From the Greater Baltimore Canoe Club website, December 4, 2007
The recent removal of a strainer on the Gunpowder River has stirred a great deal of interest. It is apparent to all at this point that mistakes have been made and things could have been done better.

We are at the point now where we need to focus on mending the fences and building bridges between all the parties involved. The board of the GBCC is actively reaching out to the park service an Trout Unlimited to form a partnership to address such issues when they occur in the future.

Our groups have much in common that we should be focusing on. To fight over our difference is counter productive. As such, I have asked the originators of the recent post on the subject to remove them to eliminate the temptation to keep posting with “Me too" & “I told you so" comments.

As President of the GBCC, a fisherman and lover of the Gunpowder park, I ask ALL of you to show some restrain and cease the negative posting on this topic. Our board will be meeting Wednesday night and there will be an official position posted some time after that.

Please join me in helping find the common ground between all park users and putting a plan in place to ensure paddlers, anglers & hikers alike all have the access they need.


Another Shenandoah fish kill
From the Virginia Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries
A USGS scientist dissects a bass to determine possible effects of exposure to contaminants.____________USGS photo
The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has received reports this week of dead fish on the North and South Forks of the Shenandoah River.

Dead and dying smallmouth bass and sunfish were found in at least three areas: a section of the North Fork several miles downstream of Woodstock, from the South Fork between Bentonville and Front Royal, and about six miles upstream of Elkton on the South Fork.
Sampling in these areas by DEQ, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and others on April 24, 2007, confirmed that problems are occurring. Though only a few dead fish were found, a number of live fish with skin lesions or abnormal behavior were observed. Live specimens were collected and immediately delivered to the Virginia Tech Veterinary School pathology lab and the U.S. Geological Survey fish health lab in Leetown, W. Va. These fish will be thoroughly examined, with evaluations for diseases, viruses, parasites and organ-by-organ anomalies.

Fish kills have begun in the Shenandoah River system during the spring of each of the past three years. The causes of these fish kills remain unknown. The kills have occurred at low rates, have lasted for extended periods, and have affected primarily adult smallmouth bass and redbreast sunfish. In some areas adult smallmouth bass and redbreast sunfish numbers have been reduced by an estimated 80 percent. DEQ and DGIF, along with partners in the Shenandoah River Fish Kill Task Force, have been seeking the causes of these fish kills since 2004.

Whirling disease cuts Maryland trout stocking program
Deformed skeletons of 8-month old Rainbow trout with whirling disease.______________________________USGS photo
Trout production at state hatcheries will be reduced by approximately 20% this year due to the discovery of the parasite known to cause whirling disease at two previously uninfected facilities in Garrett County.

In order to reduce the possibility of its spread, all infected fish will be destroyed. As a result, stocking rates will be reduced in all waters across the state for the 2007 season.

The whirling disease parasite was introduced into the eastern US from Europe in the late 1950s and is currently known to exist in 24 states. It was first discovered in Maryland in 1995 in the North Branch Potomac River.

Although the parasite is harmless to humans, it can enter the skeletal tissue of trout, producing severe damage to infected fish and causing them exhibit the erratic “whirling” swimming behavior for which the disease is named. The parasite can be fatal to trout and is particularly harmful to rainbow trout.

To reduce the likelihood of spreading the spores of the organism we are asking anglers not to move fish from one stream to another.

Do not discard fish carcasses in the stream or on the stream banks and be sure to clean the mud from boots and equipment before moving from one stream to another.

Another Potomac fish species found with intersex characteristics
From USGS reports
Scientists studying intersex fish in the Potomac River basin have found the abnormality in a third species.

Vicki Blazer of the U.S. Geological Survey said she verified the abnormality in early January in redbreast sunfish. Intersex fish possess both male and female characteristics.

The phenomenon was previously documented the past few years in smallmouth and largemouth bass in the Potomac River and its tributaries in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

Blazer said that whatever is causing the abnormality, first detected in 2003, may also be the cause of a number of large fish kills since 2002. In 2005, 80 percent of the smallmouth bass and redbreast sunfish in the South Fork of the Shenandoah River developed lesions and died. And it happened again in 2004 on the river's North Fork.

She said the intersex fish and fish kills may be related because many of the dead fish appeared to have suppressed immune systems. And there is increasing evidence that overall fish health is affected by contaminants including chemical compounds that stimulate estrogen production.

According to Blazer, a major factor in intersex development could be increased levels of natural and synthetic hormones, such as those in birth-control pills, which often aren't removed by wastewater treatment plants. Poultry manure, which is used as fertilizer in agricultural fields, is also high in steroids identical to human female and male hormones, although no evidence linking poultry manure to intersex fish exists.

Charles Pouksih, environmental program manager for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said excessive nutrients from human waste and fertilizers are largely to blame for fish kills in the Chesapeake Bay watershed which spans nearly 65,000 square miles in Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Causal Analysis Of Fish Kills In The Shenandoah And Potomac Rivers 2007 Workshop Results

Have you seen this fish?
The Northern Snakehead
Any unusual fish must be reported to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Anglers should call the in-state toll-free hotline at 1-800-770-4951 to report Snakehead fish. This number is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Out-of-state callers should telephone (804) 367-1258.

If you think you've caught a snakehead fish, DO NOT RELEASE IT. Kill the fish by removing the head, separating the gill arches from the body or removing the internal organs and put it on ice as quickly as possible. Call the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries' hotline immediately (1-800-770-4951).

Groups ask EPA to monitor chemicals that may cause intersex fish
From Sierra Club news release

(Washington, D.C.) Laundry workers, commercial fishermen and environmental and public health groups have asked the Environmental Protection Agency to ban the use of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in industrial and consumer cleaning products and detergents which are believed to have caused male fish to develop female characteristics.

The groups want better labeling and health studies of
nonyplphenol and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), and are calling for the eventual ban of the chemicals since safer alternatives are available.

The European Union has essentially banned the use of NPEs, and Canada set such strict standards for discharging NPEs into water as to force a shift to safer alternatives. The groups assembled today are calling on the EPA to follow these other countries' example.

"When fish change gender and develop sexual deformities because of the chemicals we discharge into our streams, it's a danger signal we should take very seriously," said Ed Hopkins, Director of the Sierra Club's Environmental Quality Program.

Even at low levels, NPEs are known to cause male fish to produce eggs, disrupt normal male-to-female sex ratios and harm the ability of fish to reproduce. Cases of such "intersexed" fish have been documented from the Potomac River to the Pacific coast. And although research into the human health effects of NPEs is limited, one study shows that exposure of the human placenta to NPEs byproduct, nonylphenol, may result in early termination of pregnancy and fetal growth defects.

Almost 400 million pounds of NPE products are produced in the U.S each year, yet the government has failed to analyze the potential health effects on the general public or workers who handle these products regularly. Nor has the EPA taken effective action to protect water quality from NPEs; it has ignored endocrine-disruption effects because its outdated 1985 guidelines do not recognize the relevant research.

Studies have demonstrated that tiny amounts of NPEs in water - less than one part per billion - harm rainbow trout, salmon, oysters and winter flounder.

"Continuing to allow these chemicals into our waters could severely harm the future of the fishing industry," said Zeke Grader, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.

"Fish are not the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, but they do warn us of the toxicity of NPEs, which can be especially threatening to vulnerable populations like developing children," noted Dr. Michael McCally, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

"There are viable, readily available alternatives that do not contain endocrine disruptors," said the Environmental Law and Policy Center's Albert Ettinger. "Corporations like Procter & Gamble and Unilever do not use NPEs, and Wal-Mart has asked its suppliers to use safer alternatives. There is no reason why the federal government should not act - as other nations have - to protect its citizens from these harmful pollutants."

Petitioners include the Sierra Club, Environmental Law and Policy Center, UNITE HERE, Washington Toxics Coalition, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.