Waters rich from nutrients from sewage spills and agriculture runoff is resulting in an algae bloom feeding one of the worst fish kills on the Neuse and Pamlico rivers in a decade or more.
One fish kill is off Carolina Pines but was working its way upriver toward New Bern, pushed by the breezes, said Katy Hunt, the Lower Neuse Riverkeeper during a video report.
It has been more than four weeks since the start of the fish kill happening in the Neuse Estuary. Reports have been coming in for weeks of dead fish floating on the surface of the river in the Carolina Pines, Neuse River near Slocum Creek, Bath Creek, Broad Creek, Goose Creek, and the Pamlico River near Core Point.
Spotters are now finding dead seagulls as a result of this environmental disaster.
“Unfortunately this is the longest and biggest fish kill that I have witnessed in my 10 years as Riverkeeper,” Hunt said in a video she produced a week ago. “I’ve got to say, it is incredibly disheartening.”
According to the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Neuse Estuary Modeling & Monitoring Project (MODMON) there is an active algal bloom in this section of the river.
The cause of the algal bloom is likely nutrient pollution from various sources such as runoff from agricultural fields, people’s yards, and the frequent sewer spills that plague the state, such as the ones regularly occurring in Havelock polluting Slocum Creek, a popular recreation area for paddlers and anglers, Hunt wrote.
The algae is not toxic and does not pose a problem to human health.
“That’s a big relief but unfortunately dead, decaying fish are full of bacteria, and that can make you sick,” Hunt said. “If you are out on the water and you are in an area where you see dead fish floating, by all means … report it … and then get out of there. Stay away from areas of dead fish.”
Algal blooms like this create areas of low oxygen in the water column ultimately suffocating the fish. Reports of dead and dying fish include mostly Atlantic Menhaden as well as crabs caught in crab pots.
“No, this is not normal,” Sound Rivers said on its Facebook page. “We must all come together and demand that our leaders put the health of our rivers as a top priority.”
Atlantic Menhaden are the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” as they are typically the first species seen dying alerting to a greater issue within the water, Hunt wrote.
Programs like MODMON, help answer the questions of the cause of fish kills by providing water quality data including temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen. Chlorophyll is also measured to help determine if an algae bloom is present. Unfortunately, this very important program has lost its state funding and the research will be suspended at the end of this month. With MODMON suspending research, Sound Rivers’ work is even more critical as we lose another valuable environmental monitoring program in our region.
“We are continuing to monitor the ongoing fish kill and working with DEQ to better understand the causes as well as how long this may continue,” Hall wrote.
Nathan Hall of the MODMON program also stated, “These early fall fish kills are pretty common, but mysterious.”