- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2007

HARRISONBURG, Va. (AP) — Scattered fish kills have been found in the Shenandoah River and its branches, continuing a spring trend that started in 2003.

Anglers and state scientists are reporting hundreds of dead and sick fish in the Shenandoah River and its north and south forks. The fish apparently began dying the weekend of April 21.

“We’re seeing dead and dying fish on numerous locations on those rivers,” said Bill Hayden, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Quality.

The agency is asking the public to report fish deaths so that scientists can document the area and collect specimens to study.

Don Kain, an agency biologist and co-leader of the Shenandoah River Fish Kill Task Force, said dead and diseased fish have been found at various points of the river — including Island Ford, near McGaheysville; on a section of the north fork of the Shenandoah about six miles from Woodstock; and on the south fork of the river between Bentonville and Front Royal.

Mr. Kain and Department of Game and Inland Fisheries biologist Steve Reeser also collected about 30 smallmouth bass near Port Republic and said five or six showed signs of stress.

“There are some fish with heavy mucus and lesions,” Mr. Reeser said. “All are signs of what we have seen with previous kills.”

Last spring, hundreds of northern hogsucker fish died in the main stem of the Shenandoah, while smallmouth bass and sunfish were found dead in the north and south forks of the river.

In 2005, 80 percent of the south fork’s smallmouth bass and redbreast sunfish died, and a similar kill occurred on the north fork in 2004.

Mr. Kain said the number of dead or diseased fish is lower this year because fish kills in past years have decreased the population — not because the river is healthier.

Mr. Reeser said he found no redbreast sunfish during a visit to the river last week.

“They are nonexistent,” he said. “Normally, this section of the river would be full of sunfish. I think they’ve been really impacted by the kills of the last few years.”

Dead or diseased fish are sent to either a U.S. Geological Survey lab in Leetown, W.Va., or a veterinary lab at Virginia Tech.

The most common reasons for fish kills have been ruled out.

Officials have no explanation for the symptoms of chronic stress the dead fish displayed. Many bore lesions that resembled cigar burns and some were intersex — males with female characteristics.

Fish samples in the past have been analyzed for viruses, bacteria and parasites, but this year scientists also will look for similarities to fish diseases that have been discovered in other areas.

The fish deaths have hurt the tourism and recreation industries in the Shenandoah Valley, state officials said.

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