Cancerous Smallmouth Found in Pennsylvania River

A disturbing, tumorous bass in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River is drawing national headlines to river pollution. 

Around mid-week, reports of the catch from AOL, CNN , CBS and NBC began spreading like wildfire online. The fish in question was caught in November of 2014. It features a large tumor jutting from what appears to be its lower lip: a tumor that the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission says is cancerous.

Photo: John Arway via Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission
Photo: John Arway via Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission

According to a release from the PFBC, it’s the first documented instance of fish cancer in the state. “Cancerous growths and tumors on fish are extremely rare in Pennsylvania and throughout the U.S.,” says the release,”but they do occur. This is the only documented case of this type of tumor being found on smallmouth bass in Pennsylvania.”

The fish was tested by both the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Aquatic Health Lab at Michigan State University. However, this is not the first time the Susquehanna has drawn the attention of researchers. In August of last year—just two months prior to this catch—reports surfaced that some of the river’s bass were changing sex.

Pennsylvania is routinely in the Top 10 of fishing license purchases nationwide. “The weight of evidence continues to build that we need to take some action on behalf of the fish,” Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission Executive Director John Arway said in a statement.

The PFBC says they have observed more than 22,000 adult smallies on the river since 2005. Until now, they have not documented any fish with obvious signs of tumors. However, the PFBC says their biologists “continue to find sores and lesions on young-of-year bass during late spring and early summer surveys at alarming rates.”

“If we do not act to address the water quality issues in the Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania risks losing what is left of what was once considered a world-class smallmouth bass fishery,” says Arway. “DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] is expected to release its 2016 list of impaired waters in late fall. We are urging them once again to follow the science and add the Susquehanna River to the list.”