October 23, 2013 at 3:22 am #734MikeKeymaster
Spring runoff likely cause of massive fish kill in North River
State wildlife biologists say a rapid runoff of sediment and
fertilizers in April most likely caused a massive fish kill in the
Shenandoah Valley’s North River.
And they say the river’s smallmouth bass population may not fully
recover for another five years.
“It’s not a classic fish kill that you can trace to a pipe,” said
Paul Bugas, a wildlife biologist with the Virginia Department of Game
and Inland Fisheries. “It’s almost certainly a land-use issue. It
brings everybody in the watershed under the gun.”
Bugas reviewed a stretch of the North River near Weyers Cave that is
normally alive with fish this time of year.
The few remaining adult smallmouth bass in a nearly 100-mile stretch
of the Shenandoah River and its tributaries have lesions. Those fish,
and many others of the sunfish species, are either dead or dying of
bacterial and fungal infections, Bugas said.
To test the river’s fish population, the department used generator
shocking gear set to stun fish within an 8-foot radius. Of the few
adult fish they caught, only the carp, suckers and catfish were
One of the two adult smallmouth bass had an abscess and a lesion on
its side. It was described by fisheries technician Jason Hallacher
as “looking like someone had put a cigar out on it.”
Bugas said it appeared most of the dead fish had washed downstream
into the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, but he said the damage had
already been done because the water remained fouled. He said it may
be 2010 before 12-inch smallmouth bass are seen again in North River.
Brian Trow, a Harrisonburg fishing guide, said he was fishing near
the Grove Hill area during the fish kill’s early stages.
“There were hundreds of dead fish in the water, and the ospreys were
feeding like crazy. It was an annihilation,” he said. “When you go
from catching 80 smallmouth in a half-day to one or two in 10 hours
of fishing, you know the river’s done for.”
Gary Collins, a fishing guide from McGaheysville, said the river
appeared “devoid of life.”
Trow and Collins say they plan to move their guided fishing trips to
the James River.
Both guides said river-related tourism in the Shenandoah Valley will
suffer because of the fish kill.
“It’s one thing to talk about numbers of fish in the water,” Collins
said. “It’s another thing when you start seeing dead fish. People are
going to see that we have a bigger problem than we thought.”
Information from: The Daily News Leader
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