Pearl River Louisiana Fish Kill

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A recent fish kill in Louisiana’s Pearl River affected dozens of species of fish, including endangered gulf sturgeon. On Saturday afternoon, August 13, 2011, fisheries biologists with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) received a report of a large fish kill in the Pearl River near Bogalusa.

Biologists immediately coordinated with emergency responders from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and began surveys and testing of water conditions in the affected areas.

LDWF personnel tested the water for potential causes of the fish kill, including pH and levels of dissolved oxygen — some common factors in fish kills. Biologists surveyed 45 miles of the river from Richardson Landing to the entrance of the West Pearl River Navigation Canal. DEQ also sent an emergency responder and a water quality specialist to investigate the fish kill.

Several thousand aquatic species were observed dead or dying along the river, including surface, middle and bottom dwellers. Of the fish species included in the fish kill were Paddlefish, American eels, catfish, bass, bluegill and shad.

Initially, DEQ, LDWF, the Department of Health and Hospitals, Governor’s Office of Homeland Security, local officials, and federal responders believed that a slug of partially treated or untreated wastewater reached the river and may have caused or contributed to the fish kill.

By August 17, 2011, the slug of black water believed to have been related to the fish kills had moved south through St. Tammany Parish.

In response to the event, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness deployed its Mobile Command Unit to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Pearl River Wildlife Management Area to serve as unified command area to support local emergency management and other state agencies in this response effort. GOHSEP has also activated its Crisis Action Team.

Officials from DEQ worked with its counterparts in Mississippi to have the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District increase the discharge from the Ross Barnett Reservoir to increase the flow in the Pearl River, according to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. The increased flow was done to  increase the amount of fresh water help increase low oxygen levels in the river.

By August 17th, at least 24 species of fish had been identified as part of the fish kill, including paddlefish, American eels, catfish, bass, bluegill and shad. Two species of freshwater mussels have also been identified in the fish kill.

Included in the kill were Gulf sturgeon,  a species listed as “threatened” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. As of August 16, 19 Gulf sturgeon were collected by LDWF. Specimens were handed over to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as part of their investigation. LDWF fisheries biologists and enforcement agents are assisting USFWS in the investigation.

Eventually, Louisiana officials recognized a Temple-Inland discharge of “black liquor” on the Pearl River that occurred on Tuesday, August 9, 2011 as a possible source of the fish kill.

Numerous levels of assessment are underway by the Louisiana departments of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), Health and Hospitals (DHH), and Environmental Quality (DEQ), including seafood safety testing, waterbody quality tests, testing of private water wells, evaluation of baseline species and efforts to determine the effects on fish and other aquatic life as a result of the wastewater discharge.

LDWF is also working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS), Louisiana State University fisheries experts, and officials with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to determine the loss of aquatic life, including fish and freshwater mussels.

Initially, more than 26 species of freshwater fish were identified in the fish kill.  They include Paddlefish, American eel, catfish, bass and bluegill. Species with similar characteristics were grouped together in some cases due to the massive volume of fish and the expansive range of the kill.

Experts with the Tulane University Natural History Museum are working with LDWF fisheries biologists to establish a baseline for species native to the Pearl River. That baseline will serve as the “before” picture for restitution claims.

A total restitution value for the fish kill will be compiled once the investigation is complete.  LDWF officials are working with USFWS in their investigation into the deaths of federally listed threatened and endangered species.

In addition to state restitution values for fish and freshwater mussel deaths, Temple-Inland may be subject to civil or criminal fines for those species covered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Officials with LDWF are also developing a three-year monitoring plan to monitor the re-establishment of Pearl River aquatic resources.   Selected sampling gears, including electrofishing and nets will be employed under standardized protocol to ensure that results accurately represent the status of recovery.

LDWF plans to continue to pursue an agreement with Temple-Inland by which the responsible party would pay for the necessary fisheries resource monitoring.

source: Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries