Residents near waterfront say fish deaths increasing

Low oxygen levels from continuing drought contribute to problem

July 01, 1999|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

The drought-driven fish kill that has sent perch, carp, pike and many other species belly-up on local river banks for the past week continued to mount yesterday, with waterfront residents in Cape St. Claire reporting thousands of dead fish along beaches there.

"I live on the Little Magothy River, and there are dead fish and fish gulping for air everywhere," said Michael J. Vandeven, 45. "It's beginning to stink."

Maryland Department of the Environment officials put the toll of mostly young fish at tens of thousands yesterday -- including hardy species such as catfish -- with other estimates ranging much higher.

"It's a major problem," said John Surrick, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, attributing the carnage to low oxygen levels caused by heat, lack of fresh water to flush out creeks and other tributaries, and low water levels. "But there's no possibility that it's anything other than low dissolved oxygen."

State natural resources crews will be on the Patapsco River and perhaps the Magothy River today sampling for oxygen levels, salinity and nutrients. The problem is reaching as far as the Middle Branch of the Patapsco and into creeks from Anne Arundel County to Essex.

"We need substantial rain," said Quentin Banks, a spokesman for the state department of the environment. "But even that could backfire. After the initial relief, it would bring stormwater runoff and push more nutrients into the water, causing algae blooms, and when the algae dies, it sucks oxygen out of the water."

Cleanup of fish that die on private beaches is the responsibility of property owners, Banks said.

Pub Date: 7/01/99

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