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Monday, April 1, 2013

Susquehanna Impaired?

This past weekend, I had the rare luxury of being a passenger on a trip to the Wyoming Valley to celebrate Easter with our families. During the ~3 hours in the car, I finally had a chance to read the journal of Johannes Ettwein that detailed his April 1768 trip along the Susquehanna River from near present day Wilkes-Barre to Friedenshutten in Bradford County.

These early journals are fascinating reads, as they provide our best and - in some cases - only glimpses of the Susquehanna watershed before the old-growth forests were cut down and as the early footsteps of the European colonization became a devastating stampede.

Here's a quote from his journal:

"On May 6th the first Shad were caught, and a seal was vainly followed for about seven miles in the Susquehannah. (*) The boys brought us in these days plenty of fish, trout, pickerel, salmon and other varieties.
 (*) - The original German says "Seehund," probably otters.
Okay, before we go any further, check out some observations and quotes about the species of fish in the Susquehanna (from ~1779) that I included in a previous post. Sense a theme here?
As additional evidence, here's a quote from the journal of Richard Smith on May 23rd, 1769:
"Some Trout were caught this Morng. 22 Inches long; they are spotted like ours with Yellow Bellies, yellow Flesh when boiled & wide mouths. There are Two species, the Common & the Salmon Trout. Some Chubs were likewise taken above a Foot in Length. The other Fish common in the Lake & other Waters, according to Information are Pickerel, large and shaped like a Pike, Red Perch, Catfish reported to be upwards of Two feet long, Eels, Suckers, Pike, a few shad and some other Sorts not as yet perfectly known. The Bait now used is Pidgeons Flesh or Guts, for Worms..."
Now, before I close today's post, Webster's defines impaired as:
:being in a less than perfect or whole condition: as
            a. Disabled or functionally defective
My point? There is a lot of conversation and speculation going back & forth lately about whether the Susquehanna qualifies to be designated as "impaired." From my perspective, in less than a blink of an eyelid in the Susquehanna's existence, this ancient river has gone from a pristine cool or coldwater fishery ( leaning toward the latter ) that teemed with shad, eels, trout and salmon...to something far, far inferior. 
By anyone's definition or standard, the irrefutable truth is that the Susquehanna River that exists today is a mere shadow of what greeted and sustained the earliest explorers just a few centuries ago.
My verdict?

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