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In wake of ‘Flo,’ fish kills a big issue

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I have conveyed in this column many times in the past, the importance of wildlife biologists to proper hunting seasons, locations and quotas. Many factors are taken into account, such as the number of surviving offspring, natural deaths, vehicular and other unnatural deaths and harvesting through hunting seasons.

We’ve looked at wolf hunts, bison hunts and earlier this year, the first grizzly hunt in the three states around Yellowstone National Park. We have discussed in detail the success of the near eradication of the American alligator to the point that many southeastern states have generated funds to assist both the alligator population and other species through the licensing fees for limited hunting seasons, as the alligator came into a sustainable number.

Hurricane Florence’s rampage on North Carolina’s coast created another issue for the Wildlife Commission, Division of Marine Fisheries and wildlife biologists.

Fish kills looked apocalyptic and straight out of Revelation following the floods from Florence. Crews were tasked with hosing thousands off Interstate 40 once the waters receded so they could become passable again.

Biologists quickly began looking for answers to the fish kill and found a familiar effect of post-hurricane encounters. The water just did not have enough oxygen for the fish to survive.

It is common for hurricanes that cause lots of flooding, that after the waters go back down that swamp areas share their less oxygenated waters with other pools of standing water that increasingly becomes less oxygenated as well. Fish then become lethargic, and can be seen gasping for air at the surface of the water. Then, as the flooded areas come back to normal, the less active fish are not able to make it out of the shallowing water and are soon landlocked.

Once disease and pollutants (we have had an increase in pollutants introduced to the waters due to the flooding, but they were not great enough to cause the majority of the fish kills) have been ruled out, the next task at hand for biologists is to start retrieving sample sizes of various species populations in different areas. This information is necessary in order to control seasons for the next year, so species are not fished to an unhealthy level.

We should all expect variations to the length of seasons, size of creel and size of fish for the most vulnerable species over the next year or two. Stocking programs may also be administered in 

order to get the populations to a safer and more sustainable number. Stocking programs usually include a combination of using fish currently in hatcheries, as well as transporting fish from other areas that were not hit as hard.

Not only has the storm affected the fishing, but also hunting. While it is likely the deer population will be fine for future seasons, North Carolina took a hit with the aforementioned alligator season.

North Carolina ran their first alligator season through the month of September. Out of approximately 800 applicants, only 20 were chosen to receive licenses. With Florence hanging around for an extended stay, the floodwaters and bad weather caused an unforeseen result. Only one alligator was harvested and that was on the second-to-last day of the season.

Bill Howard is an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman. He teaches hunter education (IHEA) and bowhunter education (IBEP) in North Carolina. He is a member of North Carolina Bowhunters Association and Pope & Young, and is an official measurer for both.