Last week and continuing into this week, fish continue to wash up dead in Middle River, MD, in Eastern Baltimore County. It is estimated that nearly 200,000 fish have died thus far. The affected areas include Cow Pen Creek and stretch to Norman, Hopkins, and Dark Head Creeks, in the Hawthorne area of Middle River. Locals and anglers alike are completely devastated. The site of the fish kill is only about two miles from where angler Aaron Martens caught his winning Bass at the Chesapeake Bay Bassmaster Elite Series this past summer.
Before this die-off, the Middle River fishery had been flourishing, largely in part due to efforts by Scott Sewell, a retired Maryland State Trooper and Conservation Director for Maryland’s B.A.S.S. Nation for the past 15 years. Sewell has spearheaded private stocking efforts and encouraged anglers to release fish caught in bass tournaments in and around the Middle River area to help improve the quality of fishing.
Fish kills are nothing new to the Chesapeake Bay, there have been about 80 this year already, but for Sewell, the Middle River fish kill was on a magnitude he had not experienced for 15 years. That previous die-off was what prompted the re-stocking and conservation efforts, that up until recently, had been quite successful.
Currently, investigations continue as to the cause of the die-off. The Maryland Department of the Environment has confirmed that a toxic algae, Karlodinium veneficum, was the culprit. This is a type of harmful algae, a dinoflagellate, that typically blooms in the spring and summer months and is fueled by an excess of nitrogen and phosphorous. So why now, in November, is this happening? Some point to the unseasonably warm November we have been having, but some anglers wonder if something else is not behind this.
Excess nitrogen and phosphorous generally come from stormwater discharge, sewage treatment plant overflows, and agricultural runoff. Sewell and other local anglers are skeptical that the harmful algae alone would be responsible for a fish kill of this magnitude. Some have pointed to a drainage pipe in the back of Cowpen Creek and the potentially hazardous liquids being introduced from that pipe into the waterways. Sewell alerted scientists to the pipe and samples have been taken.
So far, the investigation has not yielded any signs of chemical pollution but locals remain skeptical. While the testing continues, investigators recommend that anglers avoid eating fish from this area. The fish affected include largemouth bass, yellow perch, bluegills, crappies, chain pickeral, pumpkinseed sunfish, carp, killfish, and Atlantic menhaden.
For more videos and photos by Scott Sewell, click to bassfan.com