Hundreds of dead fish found in Hood Canal



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Posted on September 20, 2010 at 6:47 PM

Updated Monday, Sep 20 at 7:45 PM

POTLATCH STATE PARK, Wash. - The evidence is on the beach, from a dead Dungeness crab to a flounder. Scores of small fish are seen on the bottom at high tide. It's distressing to see.

"If people keep disrespecting like they're doing, I don't see it getting any better," says outdoorsman Rob Schuler

The environmental impact of so many people living along Hood Canal has been debated for years. Scientists say the human population along the dead-ended Hood Canal have raised the levels of nitrogen in the water. That nitrogen leads to a booming population of krill and other small organisms. But when that Krill dies, and as bacteria devour them, the bacteria pull oxygen critical to other fish out of the water. Since Hood Canal is a dead end with low circulation, that leads to big fish kills where fish simply cannot breathe.

This latest alarm went out for state biologists Sunday night while monitoring an automated buoy near Hoodsport.

Three biologists spent most of Monday on the water and diving under it. They watched slow-moving Rockfish and even slower moving Octopus, all visibly "panting," trying to move as much oxygen-depleted water across their gills. Many of the normally deeper water fish are now within 30 feet of the surface where the oxygen levels are typically higher.

"When you get southern winds, pushing surface waters away that have oxygen, that brings up the cold clear de-oxygenated water. That's when you have the potential for fish kills," says Wayne Palsson, a research scientist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Biologist Steve Quinnel named off a list of dead species he found on the beach, including English Sole, flounder, Rockfish, Ratfish and various small eel like species.

Palsson says there are stories of big fish kills dating back at least through the 20th century. But he says those big die-offs came 30 years apart. In recent decades, big die-offs have come just a few years apart - in 2003 and 2006. The issue first set off alarms in 1994.

The forecast from scientists at the University of Washington is for another big die-off this year. These fish are just a sample of what is expected in the weeks and months ahead.