More fish kills expected

Published 6:19 pm Friday, July 13, 2012

A series of fish kills in Beaufort County this week could be the first two of many fish kills this summer in the Pamlico-Tar River and its tributaries, according to a spokeswoman for the Pamlico-Tar River Rapid Response team.

They are the first reported fish kills in Beaufort County and adjacent counties this summer. The fish kills occurred in Little Creek, Chocowinity Bay, Jack’s Creek and Blounts Creek.

“We’ll see what happens next week when it starts to warm back up again,” said Jill Paxson, an environmental regional supervisor with the response team, on Friday.

At least 6,500 dead fish were discovered Tuesday in Chocowinity Bay that’s adjacent to Twin Lakes RV Resort, said Paxson, a veteran investigator of fish kills in the Pamlico-Tar River watershed.

The fish kill, which covered about 1.5 square miles, was investigated Wednesday. The prevalent species that died include catfish, flounder, perch, shad, spot, striped bass, striped mullet, sunfish and blue crabs. An algal bloom is the suspected cause of the fish kill, according to a report filed by investigators and posted on NCDENR’s website Friday. Collected data indicates extremely low levels of dissolved oxygen present in the algal bloom.

The dead fish were observed in an area from the headwaters of Crawford Creek downstream throughout Chocowinity Bay, according to the report.

“I’m not surprised with Chocowinity. When it goes, when the DO (dissolved oxygen) goes, it tends to take multiple species for some reason. … Chocowinity Bay is very shallow. It tends to heat up quicker. It doesn’t take long for a shallow body of water to get hot and stay hot. That’s why Chocowinity Bay seems to bloom a lot longer during the year. Even in the wintertime, we get blooms there. So, the blooms crash and we get the DO.”

Paxson said triple-digit temperatures and storm systems that affect area waterways also are factors behind fish kills.

“It is likely that bloom activity and the overnight localized storm activity (heavy rains, strong NW winds) created unfavorable scenarios for local fish and crab populations,” reads the report.

In the fish kill on Little Creek, a tributary of Blounts Creek, about 100 fish died, according to a report. That fish kill, mostly bream and sunfish, was reported Sunday and investigated Tuesday. Low levels of dissolved oxygen are the suspected cause of the fish kill, which covered about a quarter of a mile.

The midweek fish kill in Jack’s Creek claimed about 1,000 fish, according to Paxson, who had yet to post the report on that fish kill on NCDENR’s website as of Friday morning. That fish killed claimed shad, bass, bream, carp, gar and sunfish.

A fish kill in Blounts Creek (sometime Thursday or Friday upstream of Cotton Patch Landing) claimed about 50 rockfish, Paxson said. A report on that fish kill had not been posted as of Friday morning.

“There is no oxygen up there whatsoever. There’s no indication that it’s even blooming. The water is pretty dead up there,” she said.

Paxson said nonexistent levels or extremely low levels of dissolved oxygen in the waters were major factors in those two fish kills.

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 kills of 25 or more fish are recorded by the state’s rapid-response teams or other investigators.

Fish kills and fish-disease events in North Carolina often involve a host of factors and underlying causes. It is therefore crucial to gather as much information as possible surrounding an event from all involved parties. In 1996, DWQ’s environmental-sciences section, in consultation with regional office staff, Wildlife Resources Commission biologists and N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries personnel instituted a new fish kill investigation procedure to be used by DWQ regional offices, response teams and other agencies to collect and track information on fish kills throughout the state. Fish kill and fish-health data are recorded via standardized methods and sent to ESS where the data are reviewed. Fish kill investigation reports and supplemental information are compiled in a central database where the data can be managed, retrieved and reported to state officials, scientists, and other concerned parties. Fish-kill information is reviewed as part of DWQ’s efforts to monitor water-quality trends across the state.

Some information for this article came from the NCDENR website:

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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