The second Neuse River fish kill in a month was reported Sunday on the south shore in the area between Flanners Beach and Slocum Creek.
Early Monday morning thunderstorms and winds washed away all but small traces of the kill by daylight.
Rick Dove, president of the Coastal Carolina River Watch and a nearby resident, said thousands of fish were seen Sunday morning.
“I would call this a small to moderate fish kill,” he said. “The kill shows clear evidence of being caused by low dissolved oxygen. There were no sores on the fish that I could find. It involved multiple species including croakers, flounder and menhaden. The dead fish were stacked along the shore and presented a very bad odor of rotting fish.”
On July 10, a similar kill was reported in the same area.
The last major fish kill on the Neuse was last October, lasting about a month and resulting in an estimated 200 million dead fish.
Dove said that while Sunday’s kill could be termed small, each fish kill shows further evidence of an unhealthy river and that the kills contribute to the problem of nutrients in the water.
Dove notified the Washington office of the state Division of Water Quality, which said Monday that the matter would be investigated.
Dove said Neuse River fish kills are now common in the summer months. He said a number of factors work in concert to produce low oxygen, resulting in fish kills.
“The water is hot and that has an impact,” he said. “And then we get the salt wedge that comes in from the ocean and that helps lower oxygen levels, especially on the bottom. The third thing that is working here is the nutrient pollution in the river. It deprives the water of oxygen and the fish die.”
He said that such fish kills are often labeled as natural occurrences, but he noted that has not always been the case.
“When the river was healthy more than 20 or 30 years ago, we didn’t see these kinds of large fish kill events in the main body of the Neuse River,” he said. “We would see them back in the creeks, where the water didn’t move, but it was rare to see them in the river.”
He said dead fish with sores are often spotted around September, when menhaden begin migrating from creeks to the ocean.
“They hang around New Bern for a couple of weeks and are supposed to migrate to the ocean,” he said. “That is typically when we see disease hit these fish.”
He said the problems are all rooted in pollution, adding that the dead menhaden add to the problem since they are essentially one of the solutions to excess nutrients.
“The menhaden are a very valuable fish because they help export nutrients out of our waters,” he said.
The larvae are laid in the ocean and wash into the estuaries through the tides and winds.
“These little fish then begin to eat algae, which is where all the nutrients are stored,” he said.
The young menhaden are laden with nutrient-rich body weight and when massive numbers die, the nutrients are recycled back into the river.
“We don’t get the exportation of the nutrients out of the system as nature had intended,” he said. “The more fish kills, the worse the river gets with nutrients because we are losing one of nature’s ways of cleaning itself.”