Truly disturbing news in today’s VTDigger feed. (Oh, Digger, why must you spoil my Monday mornings?…)
A significant majority of Missisquoi River’s male smallmouth bass bear eggs, a characteristic known as “intersex.”
… A report published this fall, the most comprehensive of its kind, found 60 percent to 75 percent of male smallmouth bass in the Missisquoi River carry eggs.
Sixty to 75 percent???
That’s overwhelming evidence of an ecosystem ravaged by outside forces.
Okay, that’s the scientifically disturbing fact of the day. Now for the politically disturbing fact.
The scientists believe the cause of this phenomenon is agricultural runoff — the same thing that’s triggering Lake Champlain’s toxic algae blooms. However, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture is resisting the idea that farms are to blame.
“The data in the study are in no way indicative of a need for regulatory change on herbicide applications in Vermont,” said Cary Giguere, Agrichemical Program Manager at the Agency of Agriculture. “We have no idea of the [intersex-causing pollutant] source. In some ways, the study shows proper management and protection.”
That strikes me as an outrageous denial of the obvious. But, to be fair, there are very high incidences of intersex fish throughout the Northeast, including in some areas with little or no agriculture.
Still, the Missisquoi basin does have a lot of agriculture, and runoff is a proven cause of blue-green algae blooms. The scientists aren’t just blowing smoke, either; there are known agricultural causes of the intersex phenomenon. And it’s not like there’s a huge amount of industry or development in the Missisquoi basin. If you’re looking for causes, agriculture is where you’d have to look first.
I realize that a big part of the Ag Agency’s mission is to foster agriculture in Vermont. But it should not be a defender of harmful agricultural practices. It ought to carry out its mission within a broader framework of public policy that encourages a healthy, sustainable Vermont. The Agency has consistently dragged its feet on the Lake Champlain issue; I hope to hell it’s not going to do the same when it comes to our plague of Franken-fish.
Note: Credit to James Ehlers of Lake Champlain International for the “coal mine” and “Franken-fish” analogies.