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Entries in Virginia (14)


Cause of Fish Die-Off on South Fork of Shenandoah Remains Mystery

Fisheries managers are hopeful that a significant die-off of larger smallmouth bass in spring of 2014 will not have a long-term impact on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.

“Impacts from this year’s mortality/disease events on the Shenandoah were fairly heavy,” the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) revealed. “However, DGIF sampled the fish community in the fall of 2014 and found an abundance of 9- to 11-inch fish and a lot of very young smallmouth bass.

 “Barring any future disease outbreaks, the 9- to 11-inch fish should grow into the 11- to 15-inch range over the next two years.”

 But fisheries managers remain at a loss to explain what caused the death of an estimated 20 percent or more of adult smallmouth bass and redbreast sunfish and what contributed to lesions and other abnormalities on additional fish.

 “Determining the cause of these mortality/disease events has proven to be extremely difficult,” VDGIF added. “Scientists have and continue to conduct in-depth studies on fish health, pathogens, water quality, and contaminant exposure, and recently have begun looking at possible toxins related to bacteria.”

Biologist Brad Fink said, “Things were looking pretty good from 2011 on, until we started getting reports from anglers that there weren’t as many fish.”

Spring mortality and disease events have occurred several times on the Shenandoah during the past decade, and also showed up on the Upper James River from 2007 to 2010. But they have been less common since 2010.

In 2014, VDGIF also noted affected fish on the North Fork of the Shenandoah, but the percentage was lower than on the South Fork. Additionally, the agency said, “Things were fairly quiet on the Cowpasture, Jackson, and Upper James River.”

The incidents have not been uniform in location or severity, with smallmouth bass, redbreast sunfish, and rock bass the species most vulnerable. Affected fish typically exhibit open sores or “lesions” on the sides of their bodies, while dead and dying fish often show no visible external abnormalities.

Here’s a look back at a die-off that began in 2003: Questions remain 10 years after Shenandoah River fish kill


Troublesome Invasive Plant Returns to Potomac River

Sassafras River Association volunteers collected these water chestnuts from creeks and streams on Maryland’s Eastern Shore

A troublesome old invasive has reared its head once again on the Potomac River. While sampling fish populations, biologists with Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries (VGIF) found a dense clump of water chestnuts, covering about ½ acre of water, near a boat rental dock in Pohick Bay Regional Park, 25 miles south of the nation’s capital.

Response was quick, as VGIF organized volunteers to hand pull the troublesome plant this past fall.

Water chestnut is probably a lot more troublesome and invasive potentially than snakeheads might be,” said biologist John Odenkirk.

“It was dense, but we got it. Hopefully, we nipped the potential for this plant to take over the bay and shut it down.”

Because it is an annual that sprouts from seeds, this fast-growing exotic is not susceptible to herbicides. It can be controlled only by pulling or mechanical harvest. The seeds have sharp needles that can attach to wildlife, clothing, and other items for transport to new areas, and they can remain viable in sediment for more than a decade. Just one acre of plants can yield enough seeds to cover 100 acres.

Native to both Asia and Europe, water chestnut was first confirmed on the Potomac in 1923, with a two-acre bed expanding to cover 41 miles of river, from Washington, D.C., to near Quantico, Va., in just two years. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the dense, floating mats restricted navigation, harmed fisheries, and killed off submersed plants with their thick canopy.

The Army Corps of Engineers mechanically harvested the infestation and the plant was considered mostly eradicated from the Potomac by 1945. But limited hand harvesting continued into the 1960s.

USGS is studying this more recent invader to determine its species and lineage. Its spiny seed pods don’t resemble those of water chestnuts found in Maryland and other states. Additionally, VGIF and volunteer stewards will keep an eye out for future outbreaks. 


Corps Suspects Anglers, Hunters of Spreading Hydrilla at Kerr lake

Kerr Lake hydrilla

A management plan for hydrilla control at Kerr Lake (Buggs Island) incorporates a “get tough” approach to those who intentionally introduce the fast-growing exotic plant. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of violators.

That’s because rangers and biologists suspect that anglers and waterfowl hunters are intentionally spreading the invasive.

“It is a crime to knowingly or unknowingly spread noxious and invasive vegetation like hydrilla,” said Mike Woman, project manager for the reservoir on the Virginia-North Carolina border.

He added that the notion that introducing the plant is a good idea is “short-sighted.”

Yes, hydrilla attracts bass and ducks, but it rarely can be contained or controlled. It smothers native plants, as it diminishes oxygen levels and water quality with its biomass. Additionally, recent research has revealed that it can play host to an alga that is deadly to waterfowl and predatory birds that eat them, including eagles.

Hydrilla coverage in the 50,000-acre fishery increased by 230 acres to 1,116 in 2014, puzzling biologists. But then a Corps staffer happened upon internet blogs that extolled the benefits of hydrilla for anglers and hunters. That discovery prompted the agency to conclude that a small number of misguided sportsmen are spreading the plant.

In addition to pursuing these violators, the Corps also has incorporated public education, herbicide application, and sterile grass carp into its strategy.

With assistance from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation, the agency stocked 13,320 carp during 2013. Another 4,200 were added in 2014, to make up for an estimated 30 percent mortality with the initial stocking and to address the increase in hydrilla.

The Corps also intends to plant colonies of native, beneficial plants. They will be started in cages to prevent predation by carp and turtles.

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)


EPA Levies Record Fine for Water Pollution

Alpha Natural Resources will pay $27.5 million in fines as part of a settlement that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says is “the largest penalty in history” under the water-pollution portion of the federal Clean Water Act. The civil penalty is for nearly 6,300 violations of pollution limits at company sites.

Under the agreement, Alpha also will improve its water treatment practices for 79 active mines and 25 coal processing plants in West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia. According to EPA, that means $200 million will be used “to install and operate wastewater treatment systems and to implement comprehensive, system-wide upgrades to reduce discharges of pollution from coal mines.”

The Justice Department’s Robert Dreher added, “The unprecedented size of the civil penalty in this settlement sends a strong message to others in his industry that such egregious violations of the nation’s Clean Water Act will not be tolerated.”

Alpha spokesman Gene Kitts, meanwhile, said the consent decree “provides a framework for our efforts to become fully compliant with our environmental permits.”

He also pointed out that the company’s compliance rate for 2013 was 99.8 percent.

“That’s a strong record of compliance, particularly considering it’s based on more than 665,000 chances to miss a daily or monthly average limit,” he added. “But our goal is to do even better.”


Pollution Reduced, But Goals Not Reached for Cleaning Up Chesapeake Bay

Progress is being made in reducing the pollution flowing into Chesapeake Bay, according to a report. But the news is not all good, as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) announced, “Many jurisdictions fell short in implementing practices that reduce pollution from agricultural sources and urban and suburban polluted runoff.”

In 2010, the Bay states--- Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia --- and the Environmental Protect Agency set pollution limits that would restore water quality in the Bay, as well as the rivers that feed it. Additionally, the states made two-year milestone commitments to take specific actions to ensure progress was being made to achieve the agreed-upon pollution reductions.

Reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants exceeded 2013 goals, but “our analysis shows that implementation of some important practices like forested buffers and urban stream restoration lag behind what is necessary to achieve long-term goals,” CBF said.

What’s at risk if those long-term goals aren’t achieved? The list is long. For starters, there are the multi-million-dollar bass fisheries in the Bay’s many tributaries, with the Potomac being the most notable.

And how about this? Five-hundred million pounds of seafood are harvested each year from the Bay. Also, it’s one of the few places left in the world where an industry exists harvesting oysters from the wild.

Additionally, this unique ecosystem supplies as much as 1/3 of the nation’s blue crabs annually, and striper fishing carries an economic value to the area of about $500 million per year.

“We are not on pace anywhere to meet our 2017 and 2025 goals,” said Jill Witkowski, director of the Choose Clean Water Coalition. “If we’re planning to run a race, so far we’ve done a good job on our couch to 5k. But if we want to run a marathon, we have a long way to go.”

Runoff from farms is one of the biggest threats to the continued health of the Bay, as close to one-quarter of the land in its watershed is devoted to agriculture. Thus, it is the single largest source of nutrient and sediment pollution entering the Bay.

“While conventional tillage, fertilizers and pesticides can be beneficial to crops, their excessive use can pollute rivers and streams, pushing nutrients and sediment into waterways,” CBF said.

Key Findings:

• Maryland met or exceeded five of seven selected goals, including animal waste management systems, forest buffers, grass buffers, upgrading stormwater systems and septic regulations. It failed to meet tree-planting goals and didn't set a goal for urban forest buffers.

• Delaware reached or surpassed four of its seven selected goals, wetland restoration, cover crops, bioretention and urban tree planting. It fell short on animal waste management, grass buffers and septic system connections.

• Virginia met two of eight milestones evaluated: stream access control with fencing and urban stream restoration. It fell short on forest buffers, conservation tillage, composite agricultural practices, modern stormwater practices, urban nutrient management and composite urban practices.