The Navy resumed underwater explosives testing in the Chesapeake Bay yesterday without incident, following complaints that a previous test blast had killed 3,000 fish.
The fish kill Oct. 30 at the mouth of the Patuxent River drew angry complaints from Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) and officials of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Mikulski complained to Navy Secretary James H. Webb Jr. that the accident "raises a serious concern that the Navy has underestimated the danger of the explosives testing."
Yesterday's underwater detonation of an eight-pound explosive killed about four pounds of fish, which was well within acceptable limits, according to the Navy. Maryland officials have the authority to halt testing if more than 80 pounds of fish, ranging from 50 to 150 fish, are killed.
"I think it went great," said Diane Palermo, a Navy spokesman. "One can never say with certainty something is not going to happen again, but we've certainly taken an awful lot of precautions."
"I'm glad to see the extra safeguards paid off," Mikulski said. "We hate to see any amount of fish killed, but this is certainly better than last time."
The Navy is conducting six tests this year off Solomons Island, in the deepest part of the Chesapeake Bay channel, to gather data for developing antisubmarine weapons.
Last year, when Navy announced plans to resume testing after a nine-year hiatus, Navy officials assured charter boat fishermen and Maryland officials that the tests would not drive away or kill large schools of fish. Yet shortly after a 16-pound blast Oct. 30, large numbers of sea trout began floating to the surface.
In response to complaints, the Navy moved its testing barge 900 feet north of the original site. Moreover, the Navy agreed to limit each test to eight pounds of a TNT-like explosive and to equip the test barge with sonar devices to detect fish.
The Department of Natural Resources and the University of Maryland Chesapeake Bay Biological Laboratory also have stepped up their monitoring of the tests. The Navy has scheduled another test for today.
Maryland officials said they want more research done before allowing tests to resume next year.