CHARLESTON,W.Va. — The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources will collect samples of fish from the Elk and the Kanawha Rivers starting the week of August 25th. The samples will be part of two separate surveys, one of which is connected to the January chemical spill on the Elk River at Freedom Industries.
Soon after the January 9th incident, teams of fisheries biologists from the Division of Natural Resources were on the river and found no evidence any fish died as a result of the spill of MCHM into the water.
“I think it’s important to point out there were no observed dead fish resulting from that original spill back in January,” said Division of Natural Resources Assistant Chief for Warmwater Fisheries Brett Preston. “We did a number of surveys both on the shoreline and in boats. We actually collected live fish after the spill, so we don’t anticipate there will be any evidence of a fish kill back in January.”
However, much like public health officials were mystified what impact the material could have on human health, there was precious little data on what impact it might have on aquatic life. The DNR will send the samples to the U.S. Geological Survey’s laboratory in Leetown, West Virginia for analysis.
“We’re looking at collecting red horse suckers,” said Preston. “We have a pretty large data set on Red Horse suckers from several places. Those can be used by USGS and they can have some good comparisons to see if there were any impacts.”
Most of the samples will be taken downstream of the Freedom Industries site which sits just north of Charleston along the shore of the Elk River.
The samples collected from the Kanawha River will be a different survey altogether.
“The Kanawha River sampling is part of a long-standing fish health survey project we’ve been doing with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a number of years on a number of waters,” Preston said. “Those are pretty standard. That really doesn’t have any relationship to the MCHM spill.”
Angler reports and data from West Virginia bass tournaments over the spring and summer showed a decline in fishing success among anglers on the state’s big rivers. Preston cautioned it was premature to jump to the conclusion the poor fishing was tied to the January spill.
“We’ve had slow fishing years on the rivers before without having a chemical spill,” he said. “Other environmental conditions may impact how fish bite. It’s very premature to say there is a connection.”