In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, fisheries biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission spent this week monitoring coastal rivers to determine the extent of damage the massive storm may have wreaked on fish populations.
As it turns out, Hurricane Sandy, unlike Hurricanes Fran in 1996, Floyd in 1999, Isabel in 2003 and Irene in 2011, left North Carolina’s coastal fisheries relatively unscathed.
Because Hurricane Sandy only brushed North Carolina’s coast, flooding was minimal. Hurricanes like Isabel and, more recently, Irene caused extensive flooding of coastal rivers, which, in turn, resulted in dissolved oxygen crashes and extensive fish kills.
Effects from Hurricane Sandy were actually opposite those of Hurricane Irene, according to Jeremy McCargo, a Wildlife Resources Commission fisheries biologist who works in the Elizabeth City area.
“The strong north and easterly winds from Sandy blew water out of the coastal rivers and swamps, dropping the water as much as 4 feet in some places,” McCargo said. “Water levels quickly rebounded with little to no flooding.”
No fish kills have been reported in tributaries of the Albemarle Sound following Hurricane Sandy. McCargo and fellow biologist Ben Ricks found normal dissolved oxygen levels during routine surveys of the lower Roanoke River late this week.
Justin Homan, a fisheries biologist in the Greenville area, reported dissolved oxygen levels remained high in the Tar and Neuse rivers during and after the storm, while Keith Ashley, a fisheries biologist in Elizabethtown, said the Cape Fear River and other southeastern North Carolina rivers saw very little impact from Hurricane Sandy as well.
“Our coastal freshwater fisheries appeared to fare well during Hurricane Sandy,” McCargo said. “We have seen fish populations begin to recover from fish kills after Hurricane Irene, so another round of fish kills could have been devastating. We were very fortunate this time around.”