Response team probes fish kills|South Creek, Blounts Creek sites of incidents

Published 1:47 pm Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Contributing Editor

The Pamlico River Rapid Response Team on Monday investigated a fish kill in South Creek near the N.C. Highway 33 bridge.
Details about the fish kill had not been provided to the Washington Daily News by Monday evening.
Fred Bonner, the Daily News’ outdoor columnist and who has a home near Aurora, said Monday’s fish kill, reported that morning, was an ongoing invent during the morning and early afternoon.
“It’s an active fish kill. Fish are dying right now,” Bonner, a wildlife biologist, said shortly after noon Monday.
State water-quality experts determined levels of dissolved oxygen were either low or nonexistent in waters in the fish-kill area, said Bonner, who talked with them as they took water samples.
On Sunday, the team investigated a fish kill in Blounts Creek near Cotton Patch Landing. The team found about 222 dead fish. Evidence found at the site indicated the fish kill happened before Sunday. The fish kill was reported by a resident to the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, which notified the team.
“Physical data at the time of the investigation revealed dead water with little to no oxygen (0.07 mg/L to 0.40 mg/L) 1 meter and deeper throughout the 2.5-mile fish kill site. The salinity at the center of the fish kill site ranged from 9.41 part per thousand at the surface to 10.50 parts per thousand at the bottom ( meters),” reads an e-mail from the team.
Because of extensive decay and missing tails on the dead fish (caused by scavengers), the team believes the fish kill occurred more than 48 hours prior to the investigation beginning. The team counted 142 menhaden, 65 bream, four bowfin, four gizzard shad, 2 mullet, two Juvenile bream, one striped bass, one crappie and one chain pickerel. The team observed live fish in the fish kill site and did not observe any fish succumbing to low-oxygen levels during the investigation.
The team believes many factors could have lead to the fish kill. Those include algal die-off, high decomposition levels from higher than normal nutrient inputs from high water levels and recent rains flushing local swamp areas, upwelling event caused by winds/rains preceded by several days of hot and calm winds, high salinity levels and high temperatures. Water quality samples were collected and will be sent to a laboratory in Raleigh for analysis.
State officials estimate a fish kill discovered in the Neuse River last week in Craven County claimed more than 3.5 million fish. Low oxygen levels are believed to have caused the kill.
Last week, the team investigated a fish kill involving about 18,000 fish near Camp Hardee on the south side of the Pamlico River.
The team received a phone call from PTRF about the fish kill, which area residents noticed between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. Aug. 18. Others observed spot, croaker, blue crab and flounder along a 1.2-mile stretch of shoreline extending from Hill Creek’s mouth to Hills Point. No lesions or sore were observed on the fish.
The team has investigated five other fish kills involving about 61,000 fish in Beaufort County waters this year.
The rapid-response team, first formed in June 1998, is based in Washington. It is responsible for monitoring water quality conditions in the lower Pamlico River watershed. The team’s primary mission is rapid evaluation of acute water quality-related events like fish kills and algal blooms. During routine operations, the team performs regular monitoring duties along the river, collecting twice-monthly ambient water quality monitoring at long term sites and works collaboratively with other research agencies in monitoring field parameters (dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, salinity) to track conditions.
Confirmed fish kills of 25 or more fish are recorded by the state’s rapid-response teams or other investigators.
Fred Bonner, outdoor columnist for the Washington Daily News, contributed to this report.