Water quality for fishing good, but need for vigilance remains

As a fisherman, I certainly do have many opportunities to gauge the quality of the waterways here in Northeast Ohio and I care a great deal about actions that can affect them.

So it was with great concern that I watched the aftermath of the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine in February. It was but the latest event that threatened the waters on which we rely for drinking, commerce and, yes, fishing.

While East Palestine continues to weather the aftermath of the derailment and subsequent burn-off and clean-up, the waterways draining from the disaster site seem to be showing no long-lasting effects.

Time will tell, but for now the eastern Columbiana County drainage, including the Little Beaver Creek system, seems to be OK. In fact, over the past 30 years or so, I have seen a general improvement in the quality of the water in the Mahoning Valley and through the Upper Ohio Valley.

That is not to say, however, that the need to stand vigilant about water quality is not necessary. The Mahoning, Shenango, Beaver and Ohio rivers are running cleaner today than they were three decades ago. But threats remain and much can yet be accomplished.

While the water seems to be better (and the fishing, too). A report last week from American Rivers listed the Ohio River as the nation’s second-most endangered waterway in America. Interestingly, the East Palestine derailment had nothing to do with the report. A senior vice president of the American Rivers organization said the Ohio’s listing is due to the legacy of fossil fuel pollution and climate change.

“There are also huge challenges with climate change, not only when it comes to flooding due to extreme weather that’s happening more frequently, but also toxic algal blooms,” said Heather Taylor-Miesle, American Rivers’ senior VP of advocacy and regional conservation. This year’s river rankings factored in the potential for climate change to impact fresh water.

I have fished the Ohio River drainage extensively over the past four decades. From the upper reaches of Berlin, Mosquito and Pymatuning reservoirs to the Mahoning and Shenango rivers and Little Beaver Creek, I’ve experienced great fishing on clean water in idyllic surroundings.

I’ve also seen those waterways at their raging worst. Storms seem to be more intense and more frequent in recent years, creating flood conditions on the region’s reservoirs and rivers. While flooding usually is a temporary problem, high water does wash oil, gasoline, pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals from industrial, commercial and residential development into the lakes and rivers.

Fishing has remained good. Many would argue that it’s never been better. That is great, of course, but as I mentioned earlier, there is no guarantee it will be good forever.

I intend to enjoy for as long as I am able the great walleye fishing at Pymatuning and Berlin, the crappies at Mosquito, the largemouth bass at Shenango and Mosquito, and the smallmouth bass at Shenango, the Mahoning, Little Beaver and Ohio River.

But, we must be mindful of our own responsibilities.

As anglers, we must remain attentive to potential deterioration of the waterways and must be willing to be advocates for actions that reduce the threats, contribute to ongoing clean-up and safeguard the water against those who would abuse it.

We owe it to ourselves and for the enjoyment and wellbeing of generations to come.

Jack Wollitz’s book, “The Common Angler,” is an immersive look at why anglers love fishing and about the obligations we have to preserve and protect our waterways. Send a note to jackbbaass@gmail.com.


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