Report links spike in fish kills to pollution

Nonprofit urges `immediate action'

September 18, 2007|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,Sun reporter

The large number of fish kills and toxic algae blooms in the Chesapeake Bay this summer demands "immediate action," the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said yesterday in urging new funding to address the problem.

Forty-five fish kills in Maryland's portion of the estuary from June to early August killed tens of thousands of menhaden, perch and other species, according to a new report by the organization titled "Bad Waters."

A "significant portion" of the fish kills were linked to the toxic algae Karlodinium, the report says.

They were among roughly 120 fish kills reported so far this year in the state, the highest number since 2004 and above the annual average of about 110 a year, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment.

The explosion of algae in the bay was the result of too much nutrient pollution flowing from sewage plants, streets and farms, said Will Baker, president of the environmental group.

A solution would be for Maryland to approve a "green fund" tax on new blacktop and construction, foundation officials said.

This could raise $60 million to $100 million a year for farm runoff control programs and better planning to prevent suburban sprawl, they said.

Toxic Karlodinium, also known as karlo, "is one more plague for the Chesapeake Bay, the result of too much nitrogen and phosphorus pollution," Baker said.

A green fund would pay for "green solutions" to the problem, he said.

A proposal to create a green fund tax on new blacktop failed this year as state legislative leaders blocked proposals that did not allow slot machine gambling or raise taxes to close the state's budget gap of more than $1 billion.

But the foundation vowed to push the green fund again this session, using this summer's fish kills and algae blooms as a justification.

"The Chesapeake Bay story does not have to be one of fish kills, algae blooms and dead zones," said Kim Coble, Maryland executive director of the Annapolis-based nonprofit. "We simply need the political will to get the job done."

A University of Maryland researcher has concluded that as many as 15 fish kills this summer may have been caused by Karlodinium, which releases a toxin that eats holes in the gill cells of fish, suffocating them.

Allen Place, a biochemist at the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, said he believes this was the highest number of Karlodinium blooms in recent history, caused in part by this summer's drought, which raised the salinity of the bay.

The higher salt concentrations support this particular reddish-brown algae, which eats other algae that multiply in waters saturated with fertilizer pollution.

The deaths in June and July of about 300,000 fish in the Potomac River, 26,000 fish in Marley Creek in Anne Arundel County and 20,000 in Weems Creek in Annapolis were among the incidents linked to Karlodinium, according to the MDE and Place.

Karlodinium is one of 700 varieties of algae living in the bay. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation report said another variety of "mahogany tide" - the algae Cochlodinium - smothered parts of the York, Rappahannock and James rivers in Virginia this summer.

"The summer of 2007 provides a glimpse of what we might expect unless we reverse this trend, now," the report says.

tom.pelton@baltsun.com

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