NC officials: Avoid eating, touching dead fish

Published: Sep. 12, 2011 at 9:06 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 14, 2011 at 6:00 PM EDT
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Fish kills often result from low oxygen levels in the water.
Fish kills often result from low oxygen levels in the water.

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – Widespread fish kills in eastern North Carolina are an expected impact from Hurricane Irene, and officials with the State Division of Public Health warn residents to avoid eating or touching the dead fish.

Scientists estimate that hundreds of fish have turned up dead in rivers, including the Northeast Cape Fear River, since Irene made landfall August 27.

"We came out here to check out the water and there was dead fish everywhere," said fisherman Dan Siuta. "There's dead catfish floating around."

Siuta said the water has a rancid smell and the water is a different color.

Experts say fish kills are not uncommon after a hurricane because powerful storms can set in motion a complex process that robs fish of dissolved oxygen.  Basically the fish don't get enough oxygen because the storm mixed the salt and fresh water tables.  They also said the eight inches of rain Irene brought with her pushed everything into the river.

"Pesticides herbicides fertilizers on lawns anything that has gone out--chemicals from our cars in parking lots - all that kind of stuff that's been flushed out too," explained Kemp Burdette.

Swimming is not recommended in the Northeast Cape Fear River at this time.

Copyright 2011 WECT. All rights reserved.  The Associated Press contributed to this report.