DAN KIBLER COLUMN: Was Idalia a big factor in Neuse River fish kill?

Published 10:47 am Wednesday, September 13, 2023

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

A perfect case in point is Hurricane Idalia, which crushed the state of Florida in late August. Sweeping up out of the Gulf of Mexico, making landfall in Florida’s “Big Bend” and crossing the state, dumping plenty of rain on Georgia, South Carolina and coastal North Carolina.

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

The N.C. Division of Environmental Quality announced last week that it was monitoring a huge fish kill in the Neuse River near New Bern — with the dumping of rain from Idalia a likely cause.

NCDEQ said tens of thousands of dead menhaden floated up late last week in a 30-mile section of river downstream from New Bern.

Hypoxia, a condition in which insufficient levels of dissolved oxygen leave the water uninhabitable for many species, is cited as a likely cause for the fish kill.

Hypoxia is a very common condition in the aftermath of huge, summer rain events like a hurricane or tropical storm. The rain sends floods of vegetative material into the river proper from surrounding swamps, and the vegetation sucks up dissolved oxygen like a huge vacuum cleaner, sending a slug of “dead” water downstream.

Many fish are able to relocate to areas with sufficient dissolved-oxygen levels, but often, some are caught. Hypoxia is thought to have been responsible for several fish kills in the Roanoke River over the past two decades after major summer storms and/or hurricanes sent the decaying vegetative matter downstream in a wave.

NCDEQ said it has not found any algae blooms in the area, a major factor that also causes hypoxia, which is normally a short-lived event.

NC tallies another bottomfish record

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

According to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, a Morehead City man has broken a state-record that didn’t even last a month.

Christopher Roccie was fishing 45 miles out of his home port of Beaufort Inlet on July 27 when he boated a red hind that weighed 10 pounds, 2.4 ounces. That broke the record of 9 pounds, 12.1 ounces, that had been set off Wrightsville Beach on June 30.

Red hind are popular bottomfish that are members of the grouper family. Rocci’s fish was 25 ½ inches long and 20 ¼ inches in girth. He caught the fish on a Penn Ally II rod mated with an Okuma SLX-50WII reel spooled with 80-pound braid.

He was using squid and pinfish for bait.

Christopher Rocci’s 10-pound, 2.4-ounce red hind, caught July 27 offshore from Beaufort Inlet, is North Carolina’s new state record, knocking out a fish caught on June 30. (Photo courtesy N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries)

National Hunting and Fishing Day activities scheduled

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 is next Sept. 23.

The John Lentz Hunter Education Complex in Ellerbe will have action on its shotgun, rifle, muzzleloading and archery ranges, decoy carving demonstrations, turkey-calling and hunting demonstrations, a tree-stand safety education booth, outdoor cooking demonstrations, a skins and skulls ID booth, a bass casting station and demonstrations of track chairs.

The activities do not require pre registration and will run from 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

At the John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center in Fayetteville, activities will include casting competitions, a boating simulator, fly-fishing and fly-tying demonstrations, archery and BB gun ranges, fishing in the Center’s stocked ponds, kayaking, duck-calling and retriever demonstrations, tree-stand demonstrations and live reptile and amphibian exhibits.

Activities, which run from 9 a.m.-2 p.m., will require preregistration 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 until his retirement in 2021.