Thursday, January 18, 2001

Cold blamed for fish kills

Hundreds of shad dead in Ky., Va.; total may grow

The Associated Press

        PIKEVILLE, Ky. — Cold temperatures that froze creeks and rivers are thought to be responsible for fish kills in eastern Kentucky and southwestern Virginia.

        More than 500 gizzard shad have been found floating dead in streams and along riverbanks of the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River in the Mouthcard and Feds Creek areas in Pike County.

        Similar kills have been found in the mountains of Virginia, The Appalachian News-Express of Pikeville reported Wednesday.

        Dan Michaelson, a fisheries biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, said the fish kill was a natural occurrence.

        “It's pretty common when the weather gets cold, but it usually doesn't happen to this extent in these parts,” Mr. Michaelson said. “We've had an unusually hard freeze this winter.”

        Tom Hampton, a biologist for the Virginia Department of Game and Fisheries, confirmed Tuesday that a similar “fish kill” had been seen in two different rivers there, the Levisa Fork in Buchanan County, Va., and the Middle Fork of the Holston River in Washington Co., Va.

        Dallas Sizemore, a compliance and enforcement manager for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, estimated about 600 gizzard shad had been found dead in those areas.

        Warmer temperatures over the past week have melted ice on many of the streams, but the full extent of the winter kill won't be known until all ice melts from other lakes and streams in the region.

        Mr. Michaelson said crews surveyed the death toll Tuesday in areas from Mouthcard on the Kentucky-Virginia border down to Fishtrap Lake in southeastern Pike County. Fish were found floating on the surface or lying dead on the banks.

        “We won't know how many could be dead at Fishtrap until the lake thaws, but I expect there to be some there as well,” Mr. Michaelson said.

        State officials said there was no evidence of chemical spills in the water containing dead fish.

        Mr. Michaelson said when streams become ice- and snow-covered for long periods, the amount of sunlight reaching aquatic plants is limited and reduces oxygen production. Without that natural process, the fish suf focate.

        Mr. Hampton attributes the deaths of the shad, which are highly susceptible to sudden changes in water temperature, to the recent sudden warming of temperatures.

        “When temperatures drop below 40 degrees, it is not uncommon to see them go into shock and die,” Mr. Hampton said. “It's hard to tell what killed them, they don't leave any clear evidence.”


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