Study: Climate change linked to decline of smallmouth bass in Potomac

Bay Journal discusses how climate change is linked to the decline of smallmouth bass in the Potomac. [No study link is provided.]

Amid the coronavirus outbreak that sidelined almost all other field work this spring, a handful of Maryland biologists were dispatched to the Potomac River for an emergency project.

Their task: Capture smallmouth bass so their eggs could be transported to a hatchery with the hope that their offspring could help rebuild the river’s flagging population of the prized sport fish.

“The angling community is in an uproar, and rightfully so,” said Josh Henesy, a freshwater fishery biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, who was with the crew — practicing social distancing on a boat — while trying to collect egg-bearing fish.

Smallmouth bass are, by far, the most popular sport fish in the nontidal portion of the Potomac above Great Falls. But they’ve suffered from poor reproduction every year since 2007. Without intervention, state fishery managers worry the future of the recreational fishery, valued at $23 million a year, could be in jeopardy.

A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Leetown Science Center in West Virginia and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources offers another explanation: a changing climate. Increased rainfall driven by a warming planet is causing parts of the river to routinely flood in May and June, during and immediately after the smallmouth bass spawning season.

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