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Pfiesteria Special Report
  Lesions Seen On Fish on Eastern Shore

By Peter S. Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 6, 1998; Page D01

Maryland monitoring crews found a small number of fish bearing lesions thought to be caused by the toxic microbe Pfiesteria piscicida this week on an Eastern Shore creek -- a likely sign that another season of environmental ills around the Chesapeake Bay has begun, officials said.

State scientists have been monitoring several Eastern Shore waterways after last summer's pfiesteria outbreaks, which are believed to have killed about 30,000 fish while sickening more than two dozen people.

On Tuesday, a state crew caught about six menhaden afflicted with lesions on Shiles Creek in Wicomico County, said Liz Kalinowski, a Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman. The creek is about 20 miles north of the Pocomoke River, scene of the worst pfiesteria outbreaks last summer. It flows into the Wicomico River, which empties into the bay.

Yesterday, crews took in more afflicted fish on the same creek, bringing the two-day total to 31 out of 151 fish caught, Kalinowski said. Menhaden are a small, oily herring-like fish not typically consumed by people.

In an interview last night, Secretary of Natural Resources John R. Griffin said conditions don't yet warrant alarm, nor do they justify closing the waterway -- a measure Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) imposed on three Eastern Shore rivers last summer.

But Griffin said state officials are assuming that the discovery marks the beginning of another season of pfiesteria outbreaks. "The water temperature's right," Griffin noted. "Salinity levels are right. We will very likely, but not certainly, have more problems sometime this month and into September."

Maryland's finding -- which still must be confirmed by laboratory tests -- comes a week after North Carolina officials reported large numbers of fish succumbing to pfiesteria on the Neuse River, where the microbe was first identified in the 1980s. [Story on Page A2.]

A long and divisive battle was waged in the Maryland General Assembly last winter over a new law aimed at depriving the microbe of the pollution believed to be nurturing it.

Despite strenuous objections from the poultry industry, which dominates the Eastern Shore, Glendening championed, and ultimately achieved, mandatory new limits on how much fertilizer farmers may apply to their fields. Scientists believe fertilizers are washing into bay tributaries, where they contribute to feeding pfiesteria.

Although the law may eventually help reduce the amount of pollution reaching the water, officials have acknowledged that the bay probably has great stores of such microbe-nurturing materials and that it could be decades before pfiesteria's harmful effects are eradicated.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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