Fish Kill at Stonewall Baffles DNR


Biologists find lesions on the side of hundreds of dead crappie at Stonewall Jackson Lake.  Officials are unsure if the lesions were the cause of death, or a condition that developed after the initial stress that caused the kill.

A  West Virginia DNR fish biologist says it’s hard to say at this point what has caused more than a thousand fish to die over the last four days at Stonewall Jackson Lake.   The DNR got a call from an angler fishing in the Jacksonville area of the lake about seeing several dead fish.   Investigators arrived and have now estimated more than a thousand fish have died.

The unusual part of the incident is that 99-percent are crappie.    Biologist Kevin Yokum says a few small bass and a handful of bluegill are among the casualties, but the biggest number of the fish is crappie.

"Normally in a spill, a pollutant, or a toxin in the water kills fish very quickly, it’s indiscriminate, it kills all species and all sizes and it happens during a short period of time," Yokum explained. "What we’ve seen here is a kill that has occurred over four or five days hitting a single species.  It’s very unusual in that nature."

Yokum notes many of the dead fish had lesions on their bodies.   He says that’s typically evidence of a virus, bacterial infection, or a fungus. However, that’s not necessarily the cause.

"It’s very difficult to analyze whether that was the cause of the kill or something that happened after the fish was in distress," Yokum said.

Samples of the fish have been sent to the U.S. Geological Survey Lab in Leetown, West Virginia and to the US Fish and Wildlife Service Fish Health Lab in Lamar, Pennsylvania.  There fish pathologists will be working to determine if the fish were infected by any fatal epidemic.   Yokum and his staff also collected water quality samples upon arrival.   Those tests are pending with the WV DEP and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but the preliminary findings are that the water was fine.

"Our initial dissolved oxygen temperature and all of the routine tests showed no abnormalities whatsoever," Yokum said. "Stressors come in all forms and factors.  At this time of year crappie and bluegill are coming off the spawn, so you have a lot of post-spawn stressors that are involved.  A quick increase in water temperature can in fact cause a fish kill.  That’s happened in states around us."

Yokum says there’s no record from the Corps that would indicate a quick increase in water temperature, but at this point he’s ruling nothing out.    He believes the fish kill will likely last another day before it’s over.


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