Riverkeeper explains fish kill of over 150,000 in Pamlico River

Published: Oct. 7, 2019 at 7:23 PM EDT
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More than 150,000 menhaden died in a large fish kill on the Pamlico River near Goose Creek State Park and Blount’s Creek, according to Jill Howell, the Pamlico-Tar riverkeeper.

On October 2, Sound Rivers reported that residents notified them of the dead fish. The state was notified and the Division of Water Resources began observing the water. Howell says the fish kill was due to a water mold.

"The cause of the fish kill is actinomyces. It's a water mold. It's a really common water mold. And what happens is, it takes over the fish. And it's the cause of the lesions and sores," said Howell.

Though Howell says fish kills are common around this time of year, fish dying in the hundreds of thousands is a sign of a much broader problem. That's why the Sound Rivers works so hard to monitor the water's ecosystem.

Howell said, "There are too many nutrients in the water - mostly nitrogen, mostly phosphorus—from several different sources, but an event like this, a one-off event, definitely highlights the work that we're doing every day to keep pollution out of the water."

Howell says the bigger issue is the declining water quality in the Pamlico and a stressed river ecosystem.

Residents fishing on the water were shocked to hear such high numbers. Alan McCutcheon has lived in the area for over 25 years.

McCutcheon said, "Very rare that I see them this time of the year - the fall." He says he usually sees fish kills when the temperatures get colder.

One thing McCutcheon says he does to preserve the environment is to make sure his boat never leaks into the water.

"If they're leaking oil, or gas, or anything like that; if everybody checks their boats, make sure there's no leaking or anything. It's the best thing for them," said McCutcheon.

Despite the kill, McCutcheon says it's not going to stop him from fishing.

McCutcheon said, "So many years I've been here, I haven't seen any fish kill that slowed any true fisherman down."

Howell suggests temporarily staying out of the water.

"Don't make contact with the water - at least while the fish kill is ongoing, and you're seeing dead fish in the water or washing up onshore," Howell said.

Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the riverkeeper.

Howell said, "The other thing is, we really rely on people that are out on the water for a lot of our information. So, if you see something, whether it's a fish kill or something else that just doesn't quite look right, be sure to call us."

Sound Rivers continues to advocate for common sense, science-based protections for your waterways. The only way to reduce and prevent fish kills like these is to stop pollution from entering your rivers.