Louisiana officials are investigating impacts on wildlife of the Temple-Inland discharge of “black liquor” which occurred on the Pearl River on Tuesday, August 9, 2011.
Throughout late August, assessments were ongoing by the Louisiana departments of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), Health and Hospitals (DHH), and Environmental Quality (DEQ).
Assessments of the damage include seafood safety testing, waterbody quality tests, testing of private water wells, evaluation of baseline species and efforts to determine the of effects on fish and other aquatic life as a result of the wastewater discharge.
LDWF is working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS), Louisiana State University fisheries experts, and officials with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to determine the loss of aquatic life, including fish and freshwater mussels.
Initially, more than 26 species of freshwater fish were identified in the fish kill. They include Paddlefish, American eel, catfish, bass and bluegill. Species with similar characteristics were grouped together in some cases due to the massive volume of fish and the expansive range of the kill.
In many cases, exact identification of affected species is challenging. For example, numerous specific species of darter fish in the Pearl River only distinguishable by variations on the dorsal fin, small color variations or other minute differences.
Experts with the Tulane University Natural History Museum are working with LDWF fisheries biologists to establish a baseline for species native to the Pearl River which may serve as the “before” picture for restitution claims. A total restitution value for the fish kill will be compiled once the investigation is complete.
LDWF officials are working with USFWS in their investigation into the deaths of federally listed threatened and endangered species. More than 26 threatened gulf sturgeons were involved in the incident.
Work is currently underway to determine its status of the inflated heelsplitter, a threatened freshwater mussel species. In addition to state restitution values for fish and freshwater mussel deaths, Temple-Inland may be subject to civil or criminal fines for those species covered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Officials with LDWF are also developing a three-year monitoring plan to monitor the re-establishment of Pearl River aquatic resources. Selected sampling gears, including electrofishing and nets will be employed under standardized protocol to ensure that results accurately represent the status of recovery.
LDWF plans to continue to pursue an agreement with Temple-Inland by which the responsible party would pay for the necessary fisheries resource monitoring.
source: Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF)