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More Fish Found Dead In Shenandoah

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More Fish Found Dead In Shenandoah Posted 2007-03-31


Researchers Continue To Search For Causes



By Dan Kipperman






HARRISONBURG — Researchers on the Shenandoah River were out in full force this week.


Since Monday, members of the Shenandoah River Fish Kill Task Force have been collecting samples of fish to find the cause of kills that have plagued the river in recent years.


Results from this week show that about 20 dead or dying fish have turned up at various points along the river.


Steve Reeser, a biologist with Virginia’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, says the relatively small amount of dead fish doesn’t necessarily mean a larger outbreak is on the way.


"Nothing has really jumped out at us so far," he said. "The few dead fish we’ve found have been in isolated areas. What that’s indicative of, I have no idea."


Some Dead Fish Found


Researchers say the current situation does not compare to the massive kills that have occurred in the last three years.


Reeser and Department of Environmental Quality biologist Don Kain, who co-chairs of the task force, found about six smallmouth bass either dead or dying near Island Ford Road in eastern Rockingham County near Elkton on Wednesday.


"They were just upstream of the Merck and Coors plants," Resser said.


After finding the dead fish, Reeser and Kain electro-shocked a group of about 100 more in that same area, and found that 10 percent showed signs of some stress, including small lesions. Electro-shocking momentarily stuns fish and brings them to the surface where they can be netted and researched in a live well for examination.


"It’s not becoming a major event just yet," Reeser said. "But we’re certainly keeping our eye on things."


Last spring, hundreds of northern hogsucker fish died in the main stem of the Shenandoah River, while smallmouth bass and sunfish died in the north and south forks of the river.


In 2005, 80 percent of the smallmouth bass and redbreast sunfish died in the South Fork, and a similar kill occurred on the North Fork in 2004.


Good Time For A Kill?


Kain said that collecting fish early in the spring could help in the event that another massive kill hits the river this year.


"Right now, the river is our laboratory," he said. "None of us want to see another fish kill, but if something happens, we want to be there."


Shenandoah Riverkeeper Jeff Kelble, an environmentalist who is part of the task force, says the group is ready should another massive fish kill occur.


"If there ever was a good time for a fish kill, now would be it," he said. "We’ve been planning for a year and a half. We’ll be able to take advantage if something happens."


Kelble said that most of the river is free of dead or diseased fish, but any abnormality is worth taking a look at.


"I’ve been happily surprised a couple of times when I don’t find anything wrong," he said. "But then it makes you wonder what is going on with all the diseased fish."


Contact Dan Kipperman at 574-6274 or dkipp@dnronline.com

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