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Aug 3, 10:08 PM

Riverside residents discover fish kill

By J.D. Gallop

MERRITT ISLAND -- Residents living along the banks of the Banana River are hoping state officials will send someone out today to determine what caused hundreds of fish from the same species to wash up dead over the weekend.

The small fish, about three to four inches in length, dotted the western side of the river near River Palms Mobile Home Park on South Banana River Drive.

Several bloated puffer fish were among those caught in a milky, green film along the surface of the brackish water.

"None of the seagulls or birds are touching these fish," said Don DeMoss, a 51-year-old park resident living next to the river's edge.

He described the small fish as "sailor's choice," a bayfish known to be in the area.

"On Saturday, they started showing up," DeMoss said.

A stiff breeze carried the smell of rotted fish well into the park, which sits nearly 2 miles from the condominium-lined riverbank of Cocoa Beach.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials would not comment about the fish kill Sunday but did give residents a number to call to make a complaint.

By today, experts could be called out to take samples of the water for testing and to determine if the incident was a natural occurrence.

Troy Rice, director of the Indian River Lagoon Program based in Palm Bay, said the kill may be the result of high temperatures, excess rain and heavy runoff choking off the oxygen in the river.

"Fish kills are usually the result of one or two things, such as bloom of algae or a lack of oxygen in the water," Rice said. "It's pretty common, especially in the summer months. The salinity may also be lower than normal."

But for 65-year-old Charles Field, who lives in the mobile home park with his wife, the quality of fishing at the river has dropped steadily since he moved into the area four years ago.

"I could smell it today," Field said of the fish kill, just a few doors from some of the fishing docks.

"I've never seen the river so low and there is a lack of any fish. There has been an awful lot of runoff in the water. Right now I just go offshore if I want to fish," Field said.

Other residents tried to ignore the smell and proceed with outdoor activities, including one family that grilled steaks even as the conversation turned to the inconvenience of the fish kill.

As for DeMoss, his days of fishing for trout or red fish in the river have been temporarily put on hold until he can get some answers.

"This is just weird. You can't even keep the bait alive when you put it in the water," he said. "I'm not worried about it, but I'm not going to eat any fish from the river."
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