The fish kill that began over one month ago in Sptember on the lower Neuse River, finally ended as the outer bands of Hurricane Sandy's winds whipped up the Neuse River. The postings below describe this kill over time.
It's ugly! Menhaden and other small fish, their bodies covered with open bleeding sores, some with holes right through them, are seen slowly dying. All along the shore here at Carolina Pines, rotting dead fish can be seen. The river bottom is heavily littered with their decomposing bodies. The stench of decomposing flesh strongly offends the sense of smell. The health consequences of contact with the water are obvious.
And, so what! There are no news stories. No one seems to care. Very few people even know. The state has a written policy that advises people and pets to stay clear of the water when fish are dying or have sores. But no one is informing the public of this policy during this kill. What's going on here? We know what's polluting this river and one of the leading causes is discussed on this website.
The Neuse River is the economic engine that drives our local economy. Make no mistake about it, it is sick. The government acknowledges the illness but does nothing to fix it. When fish die, they simply ignore it.
This is sad. This is wrong. This river belongs to the people. It's our property and we have the obligation to take care of it--to preserve it for our children. If the state won't act on our behalf, we need to do it ourselves.
Please write your elected representatives and demand action to fix this problem. Write letters to the editor and get your family and friends involved. The state will try to pass this off as a "natural event." These waters are officially listed as "impaired." There is nothing natural about that impairment and the role it plays in these fish kills.
On September 26, 2012, on the south shore of the Neuse River below New Bern at Carolina Pines, Menhaden were observed dying with open bleeding lesions on their bodies. This fish kill event appears to be in its early stages. It may or may not develope further. The Lower Neuse Riverkeeper, Mitch Blake is monitoring this fish kill event as are officials of the Division of Water Quality of the State of North Carolina.
On September 28, 2012, fish kill activity was not observed but the water had turned into a highly unusual color of burgundy. The sores and water color described here are pictured below.
September 29, 2012: The wind at Carolina Pines has the water churning and the burgundy color has moderately dissipated. Unfortunately, a few Menhaden, some 4-6 inches long are once again seen in their death spirals and a few were observed floating dead on the surface. Oxygen levels are normal. Their is still no word on what kind of flesh eating disease is killing the fish. However, the state has declared this entire area of the Neuse as polluted and impaired due to nutrient pollution from waste water treatment plants and factory farms (untreated waste from swine and poultry). The state also warns people to stay out of and away from the river (including pets) during these conditions.
September 30, 2012: Fish continue to die at Carolina Pines with sores on their bodies. Additionally, a report received from a citizen on the 29th revealed that a few dead fish were observed along a canal at Fairfield Harbor. On the 30th, another citizen reported as follows:
I went fishing today at Emerald Isle.
On the way to the beach, I stopped about 10 miles past New Bern (on Neuse River) to throw my net out for some mullet bait.
I couldn’t believe the thousands of dead fish that I was seeing on the shore. I had no idea about this.
Other people in the state don’t know about it either.....no one I know from WS or Charlotte know about it.
October 1, 2012: Fish continue to spiral to their death along the shore at Carolina Pines. It is also believed, based on reports being received from other citizens, that the fish kill is becoming more widespread. Here are pictures taken at 10:45 am, October 1, 2012 at the south end of Carolina Pines.
2:45 pm, October 1, 2012: Streams of dead fish are now washing towards New Bern. The numbers are increasing as the day goes on. They will likely pile up somewhere between Flanners Beach and Johnson Point. Death spirals can be seen throughout the area. In some cases the fish are struggling an hour or more before dying. Some float to the surface, others sink to the bottom.
Now, small numbers of finger mullet and pin fish are showing the sores and are dying. These are hardy fish, unlike the Menhaden. The state usually points to the frailty of Menhaden as a reason for their dying off in large numbers. The same cannot be said for mullet and pin fish. In the past, over time, every species of fish and crabs have shown up with sores, including shrimp.
October 2, 2012: It’s terrible out there. I spent the last hour at my dock at Carolina Pines watching fish die. It’s sad to see the river bottom littered with dead fish, their bodies covered in sores. Everywhere around me, I could see fish spiraling to their death, all with bleeding lesions. Most would die on the surface then sink to the bottom. Casting a net into the water brought schools of Menhaden mixed with other species to the surface. Sores were observed in more than 75 % of the fish, including some small croakers, pin fish and finger mullet.
October 3, 2012: The schools of fish are getting smaller due to morality. Dead fish are still collecting on the bottom of the river. Some can be found on the shore. There is a terrible stench in the air from the rotting fish.
It appears that the state is getting closer to identifying a mold/fungus as the killing agent.
The state has declared the area of the fish kill as polluted with nutrients (wastewater, fertilizer, stormwater runoff). Fifteen years ago the state committed to reducing the nutrient pollution in the lower Neuse by 30%. Unfortunately, today there is more of this pollution present than when the state's effort began.
The cause of this fish kill is not "natural." It is pollution related.
This is not normal for the Neuse. It is the river’s response to pollution. It doesn’t matter what specific agent is causing the kill. The question is why has the state failed to fix this officially designated impaired river?
We should not let the state escape criticism and liability for what is taking place. We pay our taxes, in part, for the specific purpose of keeping our rivers clean. It’s the law—mandated by the federal Clean Water Act. That law mandates the state fix the Neuse River. Why is the state failing to act? When will this impairment be addressed and fixed?
October 27, 2012: The forward edge of Hurricane Sandy is now impacting the lower Neuse River. Two foot waves are now pounding the beach. In those waves are dead Menhaden and other fish. Some show signs of having died several days ago. Many others are fresh and have clearly died in the past few hours. This fish kill will soon end. Most all of the Menhaden are already dead. What few are left are extremely weak and will likely die in the storm. There will be no migration of Menhaden from the lower Neuse this year.
Fish Kills of the Neuse
Update--October 12, 2009. A Riverkeeper patrol coupled with reports from NRF Strike Force volunteers reveals that fish are continuing to die in most all areas around of the Trent and Neuse Rivers, and their tributaries, near New Bern. Further down the Neuse at Carolina Pines, schools of Menhaden were nowhere to be found. It is becoming more apparent with each passing day that none of the Menhaden from New Bern will make it out alive. For the most part, the thousands of seagulls in the New Bern area are able to consume most of the fish as the die. Less fish are observed along the shore.
This afternoon, a water sampling team from the University of North Carolina tested the oxygen levels throughout the Neuse. They orally reported that oxygen levels were normal to above normal at all locations. One specific site they tested was at the railroad bridge on the Neuse at New Bern. Upon receiving their report, the Lower Neuse Riverkeeper visited the site. There were dead and dying fish and many thousands of seagulls feasting on the fish as they died.
At Union Point Park, children could still be observed playing among the dead fish and putrid smells. Warning signs are still not posted.
Update--October 11, 2009. On the final day of New Bern's Mumfest celebration, fish continued to die throughout the 40 square mile area of impaired waters at and below New Bern. More than 100,000,000 fish have perished and their rotting carcasses have most certainly caused bacteria levels in the river to rise. In spite of the state's existing policy to warn citizens to avoid such waters, no state, county or city official has done so. As a result, today, as they did yesterday, young children played in the putrid waters and handled the dead fish. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to understand how such officials could stand by, knowing that a potential health problem exists, and intentionally do nothing. Why, and who will be liable if injuries occur, are two questions that must be answered.
Unless otherwise labeled, all the pictures that immediately follow this update were taken today at Union Point Park, the heart of the Mumfest celebration.
Update--October 10, 2009. The few remaining Menhaden that are left in the river continue to die through the kill zone described in the updates posted below. Dead and decaying fish were less visible then during the height of the kill two weeks ago, but they could still be easily seen at all locations.
Today and tomorrow, the City of New Bern will be celebrating its Mumfest. The streets and waterfront of the City will be full of people. Many children will likely be feeding the ducks and having contact with the water. The Lower Neuse Riverkeeper has been petitioning state officials of health and water quality to post signs appropriately warning citizens of the potential health risks associated with coming in contact with the water and the dead and decaying fish. They have refused. Based on information currently available, the state has not tested the water to determine if it is safe for human contact. No warnings have been issued.
The state's refusal to act under these circumstances is difficult to understand since they do acknowledge in their own publications that there is a potential health risk when dying or dead fish are observed. Here is what they state at page 265 of the current issue of the basinwide plan for the Neuse:
"If you see a fish kill or more than a few fish or shell fish that are dead, dying or acting erratically or have sores, follow these common sense-sense precautions:
Stay away from those waters while conditions exists. Don't go in the water.
Do not eat, use or collect any fish, crabs, other life or items from those waters.
Do not let pets swim in or eat from those waters.
If you come in contact with the water where fish or shellfish are dead, dying, appear sick, or have sores:
Remove wet clothing and keep separate from other items until it has been washed.
Wash any body part (except the eyes) that comes in contact with the waters, using soap and clean water. Rinse the eyes with lots of clear, clean water.
Use waterproof gloves when handling pets and items that have come in contact with the waters.
See your doctor or health provider if you experience any symptoms that might be caused by exposure to these waters."
Mumfest, New Bern waterfront, October 10, 2009. No health advisory or warnings posted
Update--October 9, 2009. State officials admitted in an article published in the Sun Journal this morning that they have no accurate number for the total fish kill. They stated that have not been able to be on the water enough to fully cover the fish kill event and that they have not been able to keep up with the numbers. When they stopped counting weeks ago, they were at 13 million. The Lower Neuse Riverkeeper, Larry Baldwin, has been keeping a running estimate. His conservative number stands at 100,000,000.
The state has also admitted that they have not collected the necessary data sufficient to determine what is causing the fish to die in these massive numbers. They admit that they can only suggest a possible cause, that being, low oxygen. However, they are unable to explain why other fish under and the same oxygen levels are healthy. Wind conditions, frequently changing directions, have been sufficient to keep oxygen mixed throughout the water table where the fish are perishing. They are also unable to explain why Menhaden in all NC rivers are not suffering the same fate as those in the Neuse. What's ironic here is that the state has lots of data about the problems in the lower Neuse. And the cause of the problems. I guess the DWQ technical people aren't allowed to talk to the media.
Check out the July 2009 Neuse River Basinwide Water Quality Plan (still in draft). Chapter 10 of the plan covers the main stem of the Neuse from New Bern to the mouth of the river. Scroll through the chapter; the maps are a good overview. The problems are there in the bright splotches of red on the maps. All the supporting detail is there as well.
Chapter 24 of the Plan goes through the history of the problems in the lower Neuse starting in 1993, the still unachieved goal of lowering nitrogen in the river by 30% by 2003, etc. In talking about the source of the continuing problems, CAFOs are clearly called out for their air and groundwater pollution. In fact, swine and poultry factories are well recognized as the leading contributors of nutrients. Excessive nutrients are causing the impairment.
Update--October 8, 2009. The fish kill in the Trent reported last night has been verified. Conditions on the Neuse and Trent Rivers in the morning were windy. Many of the fish that were clustered have been dispersed by the wind. . Oxygen levels appear normal. Nevertheless, fish continue to die in the Trent and Neuse Rivers and their tributaries around New Bern. This includes Lawson, Northwest, Goose and Broad Creeks as well as the inner harbor at Fairfield.
In the afternoon, Rep Alice Underhill (NC House) became the first and only known elected official to request and receive a tour of the fish kill area. At one point near the Trent River, Lower Neuse Riverkeeper, Larry Baldwin, stopped his boat and pulled a crab pot from three feet of water directly beneath dead and dying fish. There were numerous crabs and they were all alive and well. Crabs are the river's "canary in the coal mind". Trapped in pots on the river bottom, they are usually the first to die from lack of oxygen. This is a strong indicator that the Menhaden are not dying from low oxygen.
Finally, a news advisory was issued today by the Lower Neuse Riverkeeper. It identified ammonium as a very likely contributing cause of the fish kill. It has been scientifically established that ammonium levels have increased by more than 500% over the past decade. Ammonium is a highly polluting form of nitrogen. It's presence could be a definite factor in this fish kill. The advisory can be viewed by clicking the sub page of this page entitled Fish Kill Media.
Pictures from today are posted in photo album below the updates.
Update--October 7, 2009 (8:10 pm) A report from an elected county official reveals the Trent River, one mile above the Trent River Bridge, is covered with dead Menhaden. The kill will be investigated further at first light on Thursday. At other places on the Neuse during the day, lesser numbers of dead fish were seen on the surface. This was due to strong south west winds. Still, dying fish were observed in most tributaries, including Northwest Creek, as well as the main stem of the Neuse River at New Bern and Fairfield Harbor. In spots, large numbers of fish were seen piled high on the beach. It is believed that most of the Menhaden in the Reuse and Trent Rivers around New Bern have perished. The number could be staggering.
Update--October 6, 2009 The fish kill that started in late August 2009 has continued daily through October 6, 2009. Dead and dying fish could be found throughout the Neuse and Trent Rivers near New Bern and as far down the river as Hancock Creek. This area covers more than 40 square miles.
So far, more than 50,000,000 dead fish have been scientifically documented. It is estimated that another 50,000,000 or more fish sank to the bottom before they could be counted. Some estimates of the total number of fish killed during this event now exceeds 100,000,000.
This coming weekend, thousands of residents and tourists will flood the streets of New Bern during the annual Mumfest celebration. This event takes place in close proximity to where the smelly dead fish are rotting. Yet, no one in state government has taken any action to determine if the waters are safe for contact. The Craven County Health Director has refused to test the water or warn residents and visitors to take any precautions. The State Health Director is likewise nowhere to be seen or heard from. Meanwhile, the state's Rapid Response Team and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for whom they work, are largely handling the problem by making excuses. (see subtitle icon of this page entitled "State Excuses").
WHAT'S KILLING THE FISH?
The state has been claiming that the Menhaden fish are dying due to natural conditions related to a lack of oxygen. This position is not supported by the facts. Areas of low oxygen are very spotty. For the most part, adequate levels of oxygen are available to support all fish life. Other fish located in the area of the Menhaden fish kill are not having a problem. Even crabs, trapped in fishermen's crab pots on the river bottom (where oxygen levels are usually the lowest), are alive an well. Healthy fish, including flounder, bass and drum, are being caught in the same area where the Menhaden are dying.
In time, we will likely get to the bottom of this fish kill. Scientists, working outside of state government, are studying the data. One thing is certain, the Neuse and Trent Rivers are out of balance due to nutrient pollution. This fact, rarely mentioned by state officials, is admitted by them in reports submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency. The sources of this pollution are no secret and can be found on other pages of this website.
ABOUT THE FISH
Menhaden, are a small but very valuable species. These fish are the main source of food for other fish. Menhaden are also filter feeders. Adult Menhaden deposit their larvae in the ocean just off the coast. That larvae then washes into the estuaries where it finds its way to small tributaries. There, the young Menhaden, called peanuts, are hatched. These young fish consume algae and store the nutrients from that algae in their bodies. In September, these young Menhaden migrate back to the ocean. In the process they export the nutrients consumed during their young life. If these Menhaden die and are left to rot in the estuary, the nutrients stored in their bodies are recycled, thereby adding to the problem of over nutrification.
Like so many fish kills of the past, this kill resulted from nutrient pollution. Fertilizer from swine and chicken factories, golf courses, stormwater runoff, wastewater treatment plants and industry are discharged into the Neuse in excessive amounts. As a result, they disrupt the river's balance causing fish to ultimately die from suffocation or from attacks of toxic dinoflagellates.
Millions of fish carpet the shoreline
Neuse Riverkeeper, Larry Baldwin, out on patrol covering the kill and counting fish. State officials are not permitted to work after regular hours and missed much of the kill.
September 16, 2009 fish kill area near New Bern, NC
Over one billion dead fish since 1991
The lower Neuse River is a part of the Albemarle- Pamlico Sounds. Historically, these waters, separated and protected from the ocean by North Carolina's outer banks, have provided a safe environment for young fish. Most of the fish that swim the ocean waters between Maine and Florida were nursed in this estuary. For that reason, these waters have been, and remain, extremely important to the economies of the eastern coastal states.
Unfortunately, because of pollution, many of the fish that are now being nursed in the Neuse estuary, never make it to the sounds or ocean. Their lives are cut short as they either suffocate from lack of oxygen or fall victim of the killer organism, Pfiesteria (see page 4 of this website for information on Pfiesteria).
No river in this country has suffered so badly from fish kills, as has the Neuse.
In 1991, pollution claimed more than a billion fish in the Neuse estuary between New Bern and Minnesott Beach. The pungent stench produced by their rotting carcasses gagged area residents for weeks. In one place a bulldozer had to be used to bury them.
Each year since 1991, depending on the amount of runoff from animal factories and other sources, fish kills have occurred in varying degrees. In 1995, somewhere between 20 and 100 million fish were killed in the same area of the 1991 event. Nearly all of them had the same open bleeding lesions characteristic of Pfiesteria attacks, as were evident in the 1991 kill. In 2002, there were fewer fish kills. This was due to a 3-year drought where very little runoff found its way to the River.
In 2003, wet weather and its runoff of pollution returned to North Carolina's coastal plain. Not surprisingly, fish kills surfaced with a vengeance. In just two kills on the Neuse that took place on August 31 and September 4, 2003, more than 4,000,000 fish perished.
In 1991 and 1995, the state's response to fish kills was to place the blame squarely on pollution. Unfortunately, because state officials have been unable to stop pollution and its consequences, including human health problems, fish kills and their related economic impacts, they have resorted to blaming these kills on Mother Nature. Low oxygen levels and the resulting dead fish are now being blamed almost solely on hot windless days, salt wedges, wind shifts and even rain. These natural conditions have been present on the Neuse for about 2,000,000 years and there is no historical or archaeological record to support their involvement in massive fish kills. It is true that small fish kills have been reported since the early 1700s, mostly in the backwaters of the Neuse tributaries. These fish deaths were much different than the horrific kills of the past decade. The new player is nutrient pollution, the kind that comes from hog factories, wastewater treatment plants, golf courses, lawns and city streets. Nutrient pollution has also been conclusively linked to Pfiesteria related fish kills. In these kills, fish die with open bleeding sores covering their bodies. The largest fish kills related to Pfiesteria attacks occurred in the 1990s. Coincidently, this is when hog pollution was added to the other sources of nutrient pollution being discharged into the wetlands, streams, creeks and rivers of eastern North Carolina.
Pictures from these recent fish kills are set forth below. As new kills occur, this website will be updated with additional text and pictures.
Slocum Creek, September 5, 2003
Between 8:30 and 10:00 pm on September 4, 2003, more than 2 million fish, including shad, mullet, croaker, menhaden and pin fish, persihed due to a pollution related low oxygen event. The next day their bodies lay rotting over a 20 square mile area of the river. Here fish are seen blanketing Slocum Creek, a tributary of the Neuse below Carolina Pines
Other pictures from the September 4, 2003 kill
Dead fish stack themselves against the shore
A dog checks out some of the dead fish seen washing up on the shore on 9/5/03
Dead fish along the shore between Slocum and Hancock Creek on 9/5/03
9/5/03 No warning signs posted so people fished with dead fish floating in the water
Small mullet dying while trying to find oxygen in one inch of water at Carolina Pines
Dead fish are seen floating by a Riverkeeper patrol boat in Slocum Creek
Larry Baldwin, Lower Neuse Riverkeeper
Michael Handy and a camerman, both from TV Station WCTI in New Bern were on location coverning the event.
Adam Owens, WNCT TV 9 Greenville, NC 9/9/03
Fish kill of August 30, 2003
One of the best pictures of the August 30, 2003 fish kill where more than 2,000,000 died
A strange and unidentified growth was seen floating with the dead fish in the Neuse River.
More of the unidentified substance mixed with dead fish
Map of Lower Neuse
This website and all its pictures copyright protected 2003. If you wish to see other photographs or obtain copies of any of these pictures, please contact me at RDOVE@ec.rr.com