Dan Kibler’s column: Was Idalia a big factor in the Neuse River fish die-off?

Published at 10:47 AM Wednesday, September 13, 2023

A hurricane doesn’t have to make a direct strike on the North Carolina coast to cause damage.

A good example of this is Hurricane Idalia, which crushed Florida in late August. It sweeps into the Gulf of Mexico, makes landfall at Florida’s Big Bend and crosses the state, dropping heavy rains on Georgia, South Carolina, and coastal North Carolina.

Now, two weeks later, North Carolina is seeing some dramatic negative impacts.

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality announced last week that it was monitoring a massive fish die-off in the Neuse River near New Bern — and rainfall from Idalia was likely to blame.

Tens of thousands of dead bodies floated late last week in a 30-mile section of the river downstream from New Bern, NCDEQ said.

Hypoxia, a condition in which insufficient levels of dissolved oxygen leave the water uninhabitable for many species, has been cited as a possible cause of fish kills.

Hypoxia is a very common condition following large summer rainfall events such as a hurricane or tropical storm. Rain sends floods of plant material directly into the river from the surrounding marshes, and the plants suck up dissolved oxygen like a giant vacuum cleaner, sending a slug of “dead” water downstream.

Many fish are able to move to areas with adequate levels of dissolved oxygen, but more often than not, some are caught. Hypoxia is believed to have been responsible for numerous fish kills in the Roanoke River over the past two decades after major summer storms and/or hurricanes sent decaying plant material downstream in a wave.

NCDEQ said it did not find any algae blooms in the area, a major factor that also causes hypoxia, which is usually a short-term event.

NC sets another record for demersal fish

It’s been a great summer for bottom fishing along the North Carolina coast, unless you’re a big fish.

According to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, a Morehead City man broke a record that didn’t even stand for a month.

Christopher Rockey was fishing 45 miles from his home port in Beaufort Inlet on July 27 when he hooked a 10-pound, 2.4-ounce red Indian. This broke the record of 9 pounds, 12.1 ounces, which was recorded off Wrightsville Beach on June 30.

Red India is a famous benthic fish that belongs to the grouper family. Rocky’s fish was 25 inches long and 20 inches long. He caught the fish on a Penn Ally II rod mated to an Okuma SLX-50WII reel spooled with 80-pound braid.

He used squid and pinfish as bait.

Christopher Rocky’s 10-pound, 2.4-ounce redfish, caught July 27 offshore from Beaufort Inlet, is the new North Carolina state record, unseating a fish caught June 30. (Photo courtesy of NC Department of Marine Fisheries)

Scheduled National Hunting and Fishing Day activities

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has planned a full day of activities at two of its facilities to celebrate National Hunting and Fishing Day, which falls on September 23.

The John Lentz Hunter Educational Complex in Ellerbe will have activity on rifle and rifle ranges, archery and marksmanship, decoy carving demonstrations, turkey hunting demonstrations, hunting demonstrations, a tree stand safety education booth, outdoor cooking demonstrations, and hide and skull identification. Booth, bass casting station and track chair demonstrations.

Activities do not require advance registration and will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m

At the John E. Peachman Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville, activities will include fishing contests, boating simulators, fly fishing and fly tying demonstrations, shooting ranges and BB guns, fishing in the center’s stocked ponds, kayaking, duck calling and fishing. Retriever shows, tree stand shows, and live reptile and amphibian exhibits.

Activities, which run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., will require advance registration at https://license.gooutdoorsnorthcarolina.com/Event/ViewEvent.aspx?id=138429.

Dan Kibler has covered the outdoors since 1985 as outdoors editor of the Winston-Salem Journal and later as managing editor of Carolina Sportsman magazine until his retirement in 2021.

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