More Than 100k Fish Killed in Middle River

BALTIMORE — Preliminary investigation suggests that a toxic algal bloom recently triggered a massive fish kill on Maryland’s Middle River, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). These are the same waters where Aaron Martens won the Chesapeake Bay Elite Series event in August.


I really didn't think that I would be seeing anything worse than what I've seen the past few days. However, prepare yourselves for a truly heart-breaking video I took today.

Posted by Scott Sewell on Wednesday, November 18, 2015

But as they wait for MDE to release results of its water sampling, many suspect that pollution might have caused the death of bass and other species in this tributary. Scott Sewell, Maryland B.A.S.S. Nation conservation director, is one of them.

“I was in the headwaters area today and it’s the worst that I’ve seen yet,” said Sewell, who has been the driving force in alerting government officials, as well as the public, about this tragedy.

“The ground is covered with fish. It’s sickening. And the number of fish killed is way more than the 100,000 than the Department of Environment said.”

middle riverMaryland’s Middle River, where Aaron Martens won the Chesapeake Bay Elite Series event in August, is the site of a massive fish kill, and there's debate about what caused it.
Photo Courtesy of Scott Sewell.

In fact, one news report said the number is nearing 200,000.

Discovery of a discharge pipe into Cowpen Creek, not far from a chemical company is a focal point for doubt that this was a naturally occurring event. Sewell described the water near the pipe as smelling like “burned cabbage,” and plans to have water samples from there tested by a private laboratory.

Meanwhile, the Bay Journal reported the water smelled like burnt rubber, and added that a sample taken by MDE biologist Charlie Poukish “smelled fermented and was difficult to identify.”

fishkill middle river

It reported that some suspect that toxic discharge could have come from nearby Martin State Airport and the former home of Martin Marietta, which made aircraft there for 50 years. “The facility is involved in a road resurfacing project, as well as a major cleanup of contaminants in its soil, including PCBs,” the Bay Journal said.

Sewell also is suspicious because the water showed no discoloration or stain as it normally does with an algal bloom. “The water looks great. It’s crystal clear. That’s why people aren’t buying that algae caused this.”

Additionally, such kills typically occur in late summer and early fall, when water is its warmest. The weather had been unseasonably mild into November in eastern Maryland, but that is not unprecedented, and previous warm falls didn’t trigger algal blooms in Middle River.

For now, though, MDE says the cause was a toxic alga, which blooms throughout the Bay from time to time, fed by agricultural runoff loaded with nitrogen and phosphorus.

“An analysis of the water samples showed the presence of the dinoflagellate Karlodium venificum, with cell counts high enough to produce toxin,” MDE said. “The release of the toxin appears to have been exacerbated by large amounts of the algae dying off simultaneously.”

Whatever the cause, Sewell and many others are saddened by the decimation of this fishery that had been coming back strong since another kill crippled it during the 1990s.

“I was so proud that this was my fishery,” said Chad Wells, a bass angler and chef at Baltimore’s Alewife restaurant. “I see so many people posting pictures of the fish they catch with their kids and friends here, and it’s always my favorite thing to see. Now we have this. All of this work and effort put in by so many, squandered.”

That work has included periodic stockings with bass. “We just stocked adult fish about a month ago,” said Sewell, adding that he and others bought 150 at a cost of $10 each. “We put 20 adults in Cowpen, as well as some in Norman and Hopkins.”

Middle River offered some “awesome bass fishing” before the first kill, he added, and he intends to see that it does again.

“I’ve already told DNR (Department of Natural Resources) that it’s going to have to restock.”

The conservation director also intends to make certain that the definitive cause of the kill is determined.

“I’m going to stay on it,” he said.

Article By Robert Montgomery

The Online Fisherman

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