Pfiesteria Killing Fish in
North Carolina - River
Closings Coming
NEW BERN, N.C. ( - Hundreds of thousands of fish have died along North Carolina's lower Neuse River in this summer's first major outbreak of the toxic Pfiesteria microbe, scientists said Wednesday.
The outbreak has killed an estimated 500,000 fish and is an ominous sign for fisherman and boaters along the East Coast, where heavy spring rains and a dry summer have made conditions ripe for emergence of the deadly toxin, scientists said.
"About half a million fish have been killed over the past five days, from Saturday through today, and it's still ongoing," North Carolina State University botanist Howard Glasgow said.
The outbreak has covered a seven-mile stretch of the Neuse River about 15 miles downstream from New Bern in coastal North Carolina. About half the fish caught in one section of the river had ulcerated lesions on their skin associated with an active Pfiesteria outbreak, he said.
Health officials have not issued any warnings, but could consider restricting access to the lower part of the river, which meanders through central North Carolina to the shore, if the outbreak is not abated by storms expected in the area overnight, Glasgow said.
"If the storm doesn't blow this out, and it continues for a couple of days, (health officials) may decide to close that section of the river," he said.
Pfiesteria in recent years has been linked to several major fish kills on East Coast waterways, where scientists say the microorganism thrives in nutrients generated by sewage, animal waste and fertilizers flushed into rivers and streams.
Scientists say the microbe, first discovered swarming in a major fish kill on the nearby New River in May 1991, causes lesions and stupefies fish, and may have similar effects on people exposed to the toxin.
This week's fish kill along the Neuse River confirmed fears that severe winter storms followed by near-drought conditions this summer along the East Coast could lead to Pfiesteria outbreaks.
"We knew after the El Nino winter that we had with the rain and the flooding and the massive nutrient flow that came downstream that we had to be prepared for (outbreaks) this summer," Marion Smith, director of the Neuse River Foundation said.