- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Here are sure signs of spring: Bluebirds and robins visit backyards everywhere, daffodils and weeping cherry trees bloom and environmental officials in Virginia wonder where the next freshwater river fish kill will take place.

Let’s face it. Virginia is beset with thoughts of gloom and doom when it comes to its rivers and the creatures who call those rivers home — and it has good reasons to worry. The Shenandoah River has had a steady string of unexplained fish kills; the upper James and Cowpasture rivers have seen smallmouth bass die inexplicably. In years gone by, the lower James River had fish die by the thousands when a chemical company dumped toxic Kepone into the river in the town of Hopewell. The list goes on with mercury pollution in parts of the Shenandoah in the 1970s.

None of the known offenders then suffered great financial hardships because of the misdeeds. In fact, it doesn’t sound unreasonable to suspect that various corporate thugs figure it is cheaper to pollute and pay a fine when or if they’re caught than disposing of harmful substances in a proper but more expensive way.

As you read this, the state’s Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries are conducting scientific studies and surveillance programs in the western portion of Virginia in preparation for potential fish kills in 2008.

Unexplained fish kills and episodes of fish with sores and lesions have occurred during each of the last four springs in the Shenandoah River system, according to the Game and Inland Fisheries Department.

What is so bothersome is that even the best fish health and water chemistry experts in the land cannot come up with an explanation concerning the Shenandoah, James and Cowpasture rivers fish kills — mostly adult smallmouth bass and sunfish — and early April through May periods have been critical as far as the die-offs are concerned.

Meanwhile, should anyone have information about new fish kills or the causes of them, call the Department of Environmental Quality office in Harrisonburg at 540/574-7800 or toll free 800/592-5482. Information also may be sent to fishreports@deq.virginia.gov.

Celebrate a great fishing spot — If you have fished the Mason Springs area of the Mattawoman Creek along Charles County’s Route 225, you’re familiar with the fine herring and hickory shad fishing that shoreline anglers can enjoy. Sadly, over the years the trash dumpers have left their mark.

That’s when a small group of Coastal Conservation Association members formed the Mason Springs Conservancy (MSC) and bought 3½ acres along the banks of the creek. They didn’t buy it for themselves. No, they wish to preserve public fishing access. How about a round of applause for these folks.

An official ribbon-cutting ceremony on the banks of the Mattawoman will be held April 11 at 1 p.m. The ceremony will spotlight the work done by the MSC. With grant money from the Chesapeake Bay Trust in conjunction with the FishAmerica Foundation, MSC members have completed site improvements that discourage illegal dumping, enhance stream restoration and promote recreational fishing opportunities. For details, email meville2@md.metrocast.net.

Land use lecture — Tom Russ, a professor at the College of Southern Maryland’s Environmental Technology, Biological and Physical Science Department will present a lecture on land use, development methods, land use planning and restoration and their impact on the estuarine environment on Monday at 7 p.m.

It will occur during the meeting of the Coastal Conservation Association/Southern Maryland at Hughesville American Legion Hall. The public is invited. More information is available from Phil Angle at 301/246-4925.

c Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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