Fish Kills, EHD in Aftermath of Irene | Outdoor Channel
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Fish Kills, EHD in Aftermath of Irene

By: Mike Suchan,

The East Coast cleanup from Hurricane Irene continues, and wildlife officials continue to assess the damage from last week’s storm that dumped torrential rain along the seaboard.

North Carolina is experiencing fish kills in coastal rivers and expects more. Hundred of fish have turned up dead in the Tar-Pamlico, Roanoke and Pasquotank rivers from the Aug. 27 storm that is depleting oxygen from the water.

"People should not be alarmed if they see fish kills in eastern North Carolina," said Coleen Sullins, director of the N.C. Division of Water Quality. "We saw this same phenomenon right after hurricanes Bonnie, Floyd and Isabel. Based on what we've seen in the past, we'll probably see more fish kills in the next few days, but then conditions are likely to improve rapidly in just a few weeks."

The storm has taken its toll on fish hatcheries, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports. National fish hatcheries in Vermont, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia sustained storm damage, ranging from loss of power and domestic water supply to significant flooding.

Flooded boardwalk near Toms Cove Visitor Center at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo)

The Vermont State Fish Hatchery, which housed more than 90,000 trout to stock streams in 2012, was decimated. Supervisor Jeremy Whalen and two other staffers were able to salvage around 10,000 fish.

“It hurts to come and see it all gone,” Whalen told “You just try to stay positive. I’m sure some of (the lost fish) made their way to Third Branch,” an arm of the White River.

In New Jersey, there are fears that Irene brought a reappearance of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) in the deer population. EHD killed more than 4,000 deer in Burlington and Salem counties in 1999 and about 50 deer in Salem County last year, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Officials in the department say they’ve had reports of dead and possibly infected deer in northern portions of Hopewell Township and other sightings.

“We’ve had people report seeing up to 30 dead deer,” Larry Herrighty, assistant director of the department’s division of fish and wildlife, told “We don’t have any confirmation yet, but we did send two samples to the laboratory.”

Herrighty said the virus is carried midge flies that winds can bring to the area. The disease is typically observed in August and September.
“This is a disease that is common in the Southern U.S., and the deer there seem to be fairly immune to it,” he said, adding that the midges die off when cold weather arrives.

Click for full Hurricane Irene path map (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service map)

In Virginia’s Great Dismal Swamp, a wildfire that charred more than 6,300 acres of the national wildlife refuge since an early August lightning strike has been 90 percent contained after Irene dumped about 15 inches of rain there. Some areas of peat are still smoldering, but the flames have been contained.

The storm claimed at least 100 sea turtle nests along the Georgia and Carolina coastlines, the USFWS reports.
While the storm did cause some wildlife deaths, in most areas, birds, mammals and other ground dwelling animals take shelter or move out of low lying areas, reports.

There is an array of benefits after such a storm, especially since much of the region’s waterways were at low levels. The fresh water flushes waterways and pushes nutrients downstream. After they stabilize, bodies of water are connected and wildlife previously isolated now can move freely throughout estuaries.

Food now litters beaches, marshes and coastal areas and attracts scavengers. The influx of water comes at a critical time for ducks and other waterfowl migrating down the Atlantic Flyway. Although some habitat is destroyed, new growth will provide important forage.

“Biodiversity is highest under some moderate recurrence of hurricanes,” said Dr. Thomas Doyle, an ecologist at the USGS National Wetlands Research Center, “but it declines in the absence of hurricanes, or when they become too frequent and severe.”

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