Action Alert: Fish Kills Signify Serious Problems On Our Rivers

Dead menhaden washed ashore on the Neuse River near Carolina Pines. October 2020.

For the past five weeks, thousands and thousands of dead and dying menhaden have been washing up on the shores of both the Neuse and Pamlico Rivers. Many of the fish have open sores; wounds that are from a mold and attributable to poor water quality conditions that make the fish susceptible to disease.  The river continues to show signs of severe low oxygen and algae are blooming in many sections. This is an unusual and very long time for fish kill to occur.  

Folks who follow the health of the Neuse and Pamlico estuaries are no strangers to fish kills. Looking back to the mid 1990’s, fish kills on the Neuse dominated environmental news locally and even garnered attention nationally. Hundreds of millions of fish were dying, and scientists, activists, and regulators alike were scrambling to find the cause and implement strategies to reverse the degrading conditions. What they found was not what we would have expected. It wasn’t toxic chemical pollution from a villainous industrial giant, it was something much more insidious. The culprit was simple nutrients; nitrogen and phosphorus, to be exact. 

For decades, an excess of nutrient pollution has been dumped into our rivers from sewage treatment plants, industrial swine and poultry operations, and polluted stormwater runoff from urban areas, causing harmful algal blooms, fish kills and poor drinking water quality. Rules in place since the 90’s have sought to reduce the nutrients that are causing harm to our river and estuary systems, and while some progress has been made, science shows that the problem continues to grow.

Fish kills are a symptom of a much broader problem. That problem is that our state has failed to protect our water resources. Our state legislature has systematically rolled back clean water protections, while also defunding our water resource agencies. Polluters continue to grow their power and have undue influence in the legislature creating laws and policies that work for them, not the wider public. Our research partners and state agencies lack the resources to adequately monitor the quality of our rivers. This research is essential to effective management strategies and holding polluters accountable for the damage they have inflicted on our public’s natural resources. 

Please join us and make your voice heard.  Send a letter using our Action Alert here to your state elected officials to tell them we need the North Carolina legislature to act now to address these problems that are contributing to the degradation of our waters and prioritize a clean water future by enacting the following critical changes:

    • Increase funding for: 
      • NC Department of Environmental Quality to be able to fulfil their duties of monitoring our waterways and enforcing our water quality laws
      • Municipalities and counties to upgrade their wastewater treatment plants and sewer collection systems
      • Wetland and buffer restoration 
    • Restore and expand river and stream protections
      • Tree lined waterways provide a vital and low cost service, protecting our waters and preventing polluted runoff from entering our rivers
    • Require the NC Environmental Management Commission to strengthen the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico River basin Nutrient Management Strategies to ensure that all sources of nutrient pollution, including from industrial animal operations, are addressed 

PLEASE JOIN US AND MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD: USE THE ACTION ALERT HERE to urge your legislators to protect our water!