DNR: North Inlet fish kill result of oxygen levels

Photos: Capt. Fred Rourke/Sweet Tea Charters

GEORGETOWN, S.C. (WCIV) -- South Carolina Department of Natural Resources officials investigated a large scale fish kill reported this week.

Officials during their investigation found there were actually two kills. The most recent report of dead fish came in Friday morning.

The first kill, found in North Inlet towards the upper end of Winyah Bay, was reported to DNR by University of South Carolina staff members who happened to be in the area. Those staff members were able to collect samples.

A spokesperson with DNR said approximately a million fish were killed including menhaden, red drum and other species.

At a second location, there are hundreds of thousands of dead fish floating in Clambank Creek, a sight hard to miss.

A local boater cruising by the DNR boat asked, "What killed all them fish?"

"Probably low dissolved oxygen," said Dean Cain, regional marine biologist with SC DNR.

"You think the oxygen fell that low?" asked the boater.

"Yes sir, it happened off Winyah Bay, so terrible thing," said Cain. "Yeah it's kind of a natural occurrence this time of year."

It usually happens when there's a combination of hot temperatures, stagnant nights, and a constant southwest wind. This time it only appeared to affect one type of fish.

"They are all juvenile Menhaden, pretty much is what you will see back in the creeks. They grow from larvae stages...they are all about 3 to 4 inches long," said Cain.

The good news is that fish kills like this one don's usually have long term effects.

"They decompose; they contribute themselves back into the system itself," said Cain. "They are year to year fish, they quickly return population-wise, so although it's very unfortunate Menhaden are important for the food chain. It could affect the food chain if there were many, many Menhaden, and there are a lot dead here, but at least in Winyah Bay there seem to be a lot of Menhaden alive and kicking this morning."

The bay and creek should bounce back pretty quickly as well.

"There is no clean-up necessary," said Cain. "Menhaden pretty much decompose and rot within two, three, four days."

DNR officials say it is still safe to fish in the area.

Sample processing by DNR and USC staff over the next few days will help complete their understanding of nutrients, algae, and dissolved oxygen in the area.

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