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Fish Kills Still Trouble River Posted 2007-04-26

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Fish Kills Still Trouble River Posted 2007-04-26


By Dan Kipperman






HARRISONBURG — Biologists found more troubling evidence of fish kills in the Shenandoah River this week.


Don Kain, biologist at the Department of Environmental Quality and co-leader of the Shenandoah River Fish Kill Task Force, said scores of dead and diseased fish have been found at various points of the river in the last few days.


The latest discovery came on Tuesday at Island Ford, near McGaheysville, where Kain said 10 dead fish were found and 10 more showed some signs of disease.


He said local river watchers also found handfuls of dead fish that day on a section of the North Fork of the Shenandoah about six miles from Woodstock and on the South Fork of the river between Bentonville and Front Royal.


On Wednesday, Kain and Department of Game and Inland Fisheries biologist Steve Reeser collected about 30 smallmouth bass near Port Republic and said five or six showed some signs of stress.


“There are some fish with heavy mucus and lesions,” Reeser said. “All are signs of what we have seen with previous kills.”


Declining Population


Scientists aren’t quite sure if the latest information portends more kills of the kind that have plagued the Shenandoah River during the last several years.


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


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


Kain said the number of dead or diseased fish has decreased this year, not because the river is healthier, but because the river’s fish population has experienced such a significant decrease in the last three years due to the previous kills.


While he was on the river Wednesday, Reeser says, he was unable to find any redbreast sunfish.


“They are nonexistent,” he said. “Normally, this section of the river would be full of sunfish. I think they’ve been really impacted by the kills of the last few years.”


Next Step


Once dead or diseased fish are discovered, Kain says, they are sent to either a U.S. Geological Survey lab in Leetown, W.Va., or a veterinary lab at Virginia Tech.


“We’ve had reports of some fish that were behaving abnormally,” he said. “We want to send them to the labs so we can try to figure out what is going on.”


DEQ spokeswoman Julia Wellman said that researchers have been monitoring the situation for the last few months.


“Though only a few dead fish were found, a number of live fish with skin lesions or abnormal behavior was observed,” she said in a statement on Wednesday. “These fish will be thoroughly examined, with evaluations for diseases, viruses, parasites and organ-by-organ anomalies.”


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

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