This fish is cancerous, but could end up on your dinner table

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Reported by Robert Stitt

A smallmouth bass with an odd growth was caught in the Susquehana River near Duncannon, PA last year. The fish was turned over to researchers who tested it and found the growth to be a malignant cancer. According to a report by NPR, this is the “first time this type of tumor has been found in a smallmouth bass in the river.” Granted, it’s not the first time that other cancers and irregularities have been found in the river’s fish. For example, “Intersex fish — male fish that carry eggs” have been found in the river as well.

According to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, “Cancerous growths are very, very infrequent. These cancers can be initiated by contaminants.”

The Susquehanna River is the longest river on the East Coast and has been known to have many sources of pollution, including fertilizers, sewage and pharmaceuticals. These pollutants put nitrogen, phosphorous and hormones into the water. NPR notes that scientists have noticed “young bass in the river with sores and lesions, leading to increased mortality rates” since 2005.

John Arway, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission said, “The weight of the evidence continues to build a case that we need to take some action on behalf of the fish.” He added that “the Susquehanna [should be]on a list of impaired waterways, a move that would pave the way for a restoration plan for the river.”

Pennsylvania state still doesn’t think it has enough evidence to make a determination, but the list of the waterways to receive help will be available from the state’s EPA in September 2016. In January 2014, PennLive noted that the Department of Environmental Protection “has been fighting with the Fish and Boat Commission and environmental groups over whether or not to list the main branch of the Susquehanna as an impaired waterway. The agency has refused to make the designation citing a lack of solid evidence.”

In the meantime, the state has made the section of river where the cancerous fish was caught “catch and release,” even through the state’s Department of Health says “there is no evidence that carcinomas in fish present a health hazard to humans, but people should avoid consuming fish that have visible signs of sores and lesions.”

According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the “smallmouth bass population has been devastated in the lower Susquehanna since 2005.” This could be helped if Pennsylvania sped up the cuts in nitrogen and phosphorus pollution it is required to make. As it currently stands, the state needs to reduce contaminants by 2025. By declaring 98 miles of the lower river impaired, there would be more money and more help to clean up the river. This could save the bass population and stop the fish from getting sick, because honestly, who would want to eat a cancerous fish just because there is “no evidence” that it’s a “health hazard to humans?”

Worse yet, fish tend to move up and down rivers and get eaten by other fish and animals. How long until the contamination spreads? Further, would anyone want to take the risk that one of those fish is going to end up on their dinner plate because someone else didn’t take the time to have their catch checked?

 

 

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