September 30, 2013 at 9:05 pm #499MikeKeymaster
Disease likely culprit in lakes Marion, Moultrie, but it has not
spread to other fish
By SAMMY FRETWELL
Tens of thousands of carp are dying at lakes Marion and Moultrie in
what state officials say is an unprecedented fish kill.
So far, the die-off is confined to what are known as common carp and
has not affected popular recreational species, such as bass and
catfish, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
But agency officials are closely watching in case other types of fish
begin to die in large numbers. Lakes Marion and Moultrie are between
Columbia and Charleston.
The carp, eaten by some subsistence fishermen, are likely being
killed by a common disease called columnaris that, for some reason,
has not affected other fish, according to the DNR.
Agency officials said the deaths of tens of thousands of carp make up
the largest fish kill they have seen for that species. It also is the
state’s largest fish kill linked to a disease, they say.
State wildlife officials say they encounter a major fish kill about
every two years, often resulting from low oxygen levels.
“We are still closely monitoring the carp die-off to determine its
extent and that it does not begin to affect valuable game and food
fish species,” said Scott Lamprecht, a DNR fisheries biologist
investigating the fish kill.
State health department officials, who issue fish consumption
advisories, could not say Tuesday whether people should eat carp from
Lamprecht said the disease is no threat to humans but he wouldn’t eat
diseased fish. And he said he would not recommend swimming in water
littered with dead carp because of bacteria. He suggested staying
about 10 feet away.
In coming weeks, lakeside homeowners may notice the rotting smell of
fish as more carp wash up on the shore. In one instance, about 50
carp littered a 150-yard stretch of shore recently.
DNR officials said they learned about the carp die-offs in early May
in the Santee River, which runs from Lake Marion to the coast. Some
carp have been dying in the Congaree River, which flows from Columbia
to Lake Marion. Dead carp also have been found in a canal linking
lakes Moultrie and Marion.
Columnaris is usually caused by some kind of stress on fish, such as
high water temperatures, low oxygen levels or too many fish in one
area. The disease typically causes lesions on the gills, skin or fins
of fish. It can affect any number of species, and can be spread from
carp to other fish, said John Grizzle, a fish pathologist at Auburn
DNR officials do not believe the die-off was caused by pollution
because it has affected only carp, the agency’s freshwater fisheries
chief, Val Nash, said.
Columnaris may be affecting only carp because their immune systems
were weak following a cool spring, Lamprecht said.
The DNR has, however, consulted with researchers at Auburn University
and in England to learn more about the problem. Carp, which can grow
to 25 pounds or more, were introduced from Europe more than 100 years
ago by the federal government as a food source, even though
relatively few people eat them today.
It’s good news that other fish haven’t been affected, state officials
say. Lakes Marion and Moultrie are nationally acclaimed by anglers
for bass and catfish. At one time or another, the lakes have produced
record catfish and striped bass. The lake system also hosts national
and regional fishing tournaments each year.
Sharon Priester, an employee at Jack’s Creek Marina near Summerton,
said she’s been getting reports of dead carp from anglers who use the
marina on Lake Marion. She also has seen several dead carp and shad
while fishing on the lake, Priester said.
“Fishermen who come in here wonder what’s causing it, but they
haven’t been given any explanation,” she said. “If this spreads, it
would hurt catfishing a lot.”
Carp are omnivorous fish that compete with native species and ducks
for food. They also wreck the nests of other fish. Some people
consider them a nuisance species, and some states have even tried to
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