RALEIGH – State environmental officials today report that widespread fish kills in eastern North Carolina are an expected impact from Hurricane Irene.
Scientists with the N.C. Division of Water Quality and state Wildlife Resources Commission estimate that hundreds of fish have turned up dead in the Tar-Pamlico, Roanoke and Pasquotank rivers since Hurricane Irene made landfall in North Carolina Aug. 27.
State scientists began seeing dead fish in the same rivers where in the past few days they have documented extremely low levels of the dissolved oxygen fish need to survive. Fish kills are not uncommon after a hurricane because powerful storms can set in motion a complex process that robs fish of dissolved oxygen.
“People should not be alarmed if they see fish kills in eastern North Carolina,” said Coleen Sullins, director of the Division of Water Quality. “We saw this same phenomenon right after hurricanes Bonnie, Floyd and Isabel. Based on what we’ve seen in the past, we’ll probably see more fish kills in the next few days, but then conditions are likely to improve rapidly in just a few weeks.”
Prior to Irene, fish in many eastern rivers were already stressed because extremely warm weather, too, creates lower-than-normal levels of dissolved oxygen.
Hurricane Irene dumped a lot of rain, debris and other pollution such as wastewater and fertilizer in rivers and streams. As the decomposing leaf litter, woody debris and other waste broke down, the process used up oxygen in the water and left little for fish and other aquatic life.
Staff members from both agencies report that oxygen levels in the rivers have steadily decreased each day since the hurricane passed. As the oxygen levels decreased, staff have seen stressed fish gasping for air and others dying.
Biologists in the state Division of Water Quality are sampling water in the Newport River and other southeast areas and are tracking data from monitors on the Roanoke and New rivers. Teams from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission are assessing conditions in the Neuse, Tar-Pamlico, Chowan and Pasquotank rivers and other river systems in eastern North Carolina.
People who see a fish kill are asked to report it to the N.C. Division of Water Quality at the agency’s fish kill hotline, (877) 337-2383, or the agency’s regional offices in Washington, (252) 946-6481, or Wilmington, (910) 796-7215.
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