Neuse Fish Kills Prompt Concern

by Katy Hunt, Lower Neuse Riverkeeper

We are in week 3 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, Fairfield Harbor, Kennels Beach, and Slocum Creek areas. 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. Sewer spills such as the ones regularly occurring in Havelock polluting Slocum Creek, a popular recreation area for paddlers and anglers. 

The good news is that the algae is not toxic and does not pose a problem to human health. 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.

Atlantic Menhaden are the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” as they are typically the first species we see dying alerting us to a greater issue within the water. 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. Nathan Hall of the MODMON program also stated, “These early fall fish kills are pretty common, but mysterious.”