Several hundred more fish were discovered dead in the Pocomoke River yesterday morning, but Maryland natural resources officials monitoring the waters where thousands of fish have died in recent days said they were encouraged by the declining numbers.
"Clearly this indicates the kill is dissipating," said Liz Kalinowski, a spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources.
Officials said they will not reopen the Pocomoke until at least 48 hours pass without a fish kill. The cause of the fish deaths has been tentatively linked to a toxic microorganism, Pfiesteria piscicida, which is blamed for the deaths of more than a billion fish in North Carolina in recent years.
DNR employees, assisted by local watermen, spent yesterday taking water samples and preparing for more sophisticated tests beginning tomorrow that will expose healthy fish to water from the Pocomoke.
The lower Pocomoke could have passed for wilderness yesterday, the sort of brilliant, breezy day when the river would typically have hundreds of boaters, swimmers and anglers.
Other than a few well-fed sea gulls, the only one around to soak up the river's pleasures was Cpl. W. Scott Richardson, who for 11 years has patrolled the river for the DNR police.
Piloting his outboard, he cruised close to the vacant Williams Point Beach, then along a sandbar occupied by a heron. Along the riverside, hundreds of empty, out-of-commission crab pots sat stacked on docks.
"I've never seen it this dead -- this has scared everybody off altogether," Richardson said, steering toward the area where he had observed hundreds of dead fish a few hours earlier.
"It scares me. I'm not even crazy about being out on the water. Nobody knows what the story is, so nobody can tell you what the real hazard is."
By noon, only two pleasure boats had appeared on water normally visited by dozens, and Richardson duly informed them of the restrictions.
David Chiodi and Howard James, who have summer homes in Shelltown, slipped their motor boat off the Shelltown launch and said they were heading down river to Virginia for their weekly fishing excursion.
Pub Date: 8/10/97