A Neuse River fish kill that started about three weeks ago is still going strong — a few thousand fish were found floating in the water or washed up on the sidewalks along Council Bluff Green Riverwalk on East Front Street in New Bern Wednesday morning.
State Water Quality officer Bert Simons had earlier estimated that the kill, which is taking place along the Pamlico River as well, could easily last another two weeks or more.
Neuse Riverkeeper Lauren Wargo confirmed that the kill is still going strong.
“I’d say I’ve gotten 35 calls in this office” regarding fish washing up around New Bern, she said.
The fish are young menhaden. This species “have the thinnest skin and the least capability” to survive when conditions are right for fish kills, said John Jacobson, vice president of the Neuse Riverkeeper’s Foundation Board of Directors.
Born generally in the fall, menhaden hatch in the ocean, with their larvae being carried by currents into river estuaries where they feed and grow. Once a popular dish, they are primarily harvested today to be used as fish oil. The fish are an important source of diet for numerous kinds of wildlife.
The exact cause of the current kill is not certain, as the NOAA lab in Morehead City that usually tests the fish has been closed because of the partial federal shutdown. Local environmental agents suggest it was brought about by hypoxia — death because of a lack of oxygen — exacerbated by recent rains and the development of aphanomyces invadens, a fungul disease that affects fish.
While the disease does not harm humans, people are still advised to stay out of the water where there are dead fish because of the high buildup of bacteria from the rotting carcasses.
Bill Hand is a reporter for the Sun Journal.