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Cheap Chicken or Healthy Fish
By Ken Penrod

I grew up in Portage , Pennsylvania , a small, coal-mining town in central Pennsylvania . I learned to fish by the time I could walk—and I started hunting two years before legal age.

There was a small creek that ran through town. The bed-rocks were orange and the water provided an unsavory aroma. We thought that was normal. We didn’t blame the coal mines. We were silent—and ignorant.

As I grew older and wiser I began “bucking” the system. I wanted to know “why” we allowed such resource destruction. I soon learned that it’s all about money.

We face similar problems in this day and age—and it’s all about the money. Timber operations all over the country destroy water quality. The lumber company owners rape the land, take the money and love on. We pay for that in one way or another. Coal mine operators rape the land and ruin our streams and rivers. They take the money and move on. We pay for that. We are still paying for that.

I’ve moved to Maryland in 1961 and by 1982 I was operating a fishing and hunting guide service. I remembered how it was in Portage when I was a youngster and I vowed to make a difference from my new home. I have a long list of conservation and environmental accomplishments. I/we have much more to do.

So, I ask: “what the hell is happening to our rivers and streams?” Consider the following:

(1) American Rivers has declared the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania as “The Most Endangered River in America .” Agricultural runoff and inadequate wastewater treatment is blamed.

(2) The south branch, Potomac River , as well as the main stem, contain a significant population of male, egg-bearing smallmouth bass. Estrogen, flushed down toilets is blamed.

(3) Portions of the Shenandoah River lost 80% of all adult smallmouth bass due to an “environmental” occurrence.

(4) The Susquehanna River and the Juniata River suffered a large fish-kill (mostly smallmouth bass) due to an “environmental” occurrence.

(5) The Potomac River , smallmouth bass population is suffering from an environmental occurrence that causes lesions on bass. Another “environmental” thing.

(6) The algae bloom on the tidal Potomac River during 2004 was the worst I’ve ever seen during my 40-year tenure. “Nitrates” are blamed.

(7) The algae bloom on the upper Chesapeake Bay during 2004 was so prolific that most commercial watermen could not pursue their livelihood.

(8) Large areas of the Chesapeake Bay have “dead zones.”

(9) Bass fishing in the tidal James and Chickahominy Rivers is not a shadow of what it once was.

(10) Smallmouth bass fishing in the upper James River is, well, almost endangered.

So, what are we doing about it? Consider the following:

(1) The Environmental Protection Agency—isn’t.

(2) The “Clean Waters Act” isn’t.

(3) Our “natural resources” agencies are in over their heads on scientific matters.

(4) Our state’s environmental agencies are a joke.

(5) The Republican administrations of Maryland , Virginia and Pennsylvania are “F” rated on conservation and environmental matters—and I’m a republican.

(6) Virtually all sewage treatment plants in the Susquehanna, Shenandoah, Potomac and James River basins are inadequate, overwhelmed or poorly operated. It’s cheaper to pay permit-violation penalties than it is to upgrade the facilities.

(7) You and I just don’t care.

It’s number seven that bothers me most. We complain, but that’s it! We grumble about the news of water quality degradation but that’s all. Many of us drink the very water that can’t sustain fish life. We “believe” that water filtration plants will protect us. We all drink the “Kool Aid.”

There is evidence that by the time the water from in the Susquehanna River reached Harve de Grace, every gallon has been recycled during normal flow years. Another way of looking at that fact is: the water you drink has probably been flushed-down someone’s toilet.

We all demand cheap chicken—just like we wanted cheap coal and cheap lumber. We pay 59 cents a pound to eat it—we will probably pay 50-bucks a pound to recover from it. Yes—I’m blaming chicken farms, turkey farms, hog farms and cattle farms for much of our water quality demise—as well as those in our various levels of government for condoning this “Fleecing of America.”

“Agricultural runoff” is simply overwhelming amounts of chicken, hog and cow dung, poured on fields in the name of “fertilizer.” Guess where that dung ends-up? Are you drinking it? Are your children?

Maryland ’s Eastern Shore is a virtual farm—but that entire farm can’t grow enough grain to feed the chickens that are raised there.

The question that comes to mind is: “why are they getting away with this?” The answer is: ”money talks and chicken shit is money” for state coffers and political ambition.

In 1968 President Lyndon Johnson was embarrassed by the water quality in the Potomac River —calling it a “National Disgrace.” It’s time for another Lyndon Johnson. Send a bottle of water from your river to your governor, our president and our state representatives. Ask them if they are comfortable with it. Send letters to your governor, and tell him that your vote for the next election will go to the person that promises “clean water reform.”

The Purdue and Tyson families are making millions and millions of dollars from their “cheap” chicken—while you and I, the tax-payer, will spend billions cleaning up their mess. Make Tyson and Purdue accountable. We may pay double today’s prices—but that’s much better than what we do pay in the end.

I’m looking for a team of persons that want to tackle this problem. My e-mail is kenpenrod@comcast.net.

Ken Penrod is the owner/operator of Ken Penrod ’s Life Outdoors Unlimited; a member of the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame; a book author; outdoor writer and recipient of numerous conservation awards. See his website at www.penrodsguides.com