Fish kill total may be up to 4 million, setting record
September 07, 2009 9:48 PM
Sun Journal Staff
Reports of more dead fish on the Neuse River continue to come to waterway observers, increasing estimates from of a fish kill that began as 8,000 fish on Thursday to as many as 4 million.
Larry Baldwin, lower Neuse Riverkeeper for the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation, said reports of additional dead fish have continued to come from people located several miles upriver from New Bern to areas as far as southeast as Clubfoot Creek.
This “gives a very conservative estimate of at least 4 million dead fish over the last four days,” Baldwin said.
The main species involved is Atlantic Menhaden, an anatropous species or one that moves into rivers from the ocean to breed and one that is very important for the river and the U.S. coast, he said.
“As these fish move back to the open ocean, they are transporting biomass – nutrients they have fed upon that are now part of their bodies - out of the river and into the ocean,” Baldwin said.
In this way their presence cleans the river. When they die before making it back to the ocean, however, the nutrients stay in the river and threaten to overload it.
Although Menhaden are no longer processed in North Carolina, the species remains an important commercial fishing resource. It is still fished from areas of the N.C. coast for domestic plants in Virginia and Louisiana.
Baldwin and a spokesman for the N.C. Division of Water Quality attributed the kill to natural causes that precipitated a lack of dissolved oxygen in the water column.
This has been a fairly common late-summer event for the last 20 years, but Baldwin said a major upwelling of this magnitude did not exist prior to the late 1980s.
“Numerous scientific studies have made a direct connection to the impacts of pollution from large animal operations, stormwater, industrial and municipal influences to the decline in water quality in the Neuse River,” he said.
This is the ninth Neuse River fish kill reported in 2009 and now appears to be the largest. In an Aug. 21 kill, an estimated 3.9 million fish died. No sores or lesions were reported on fish in either event.