State environmental officials are continuing their investigation of a mysterious fish kill that occurred on the lower Little River over the weekend.
Residents in Louisville knew something was wrong Friday morning when they saw dozens of fish floating belly up along the river bank.
By time the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency inspected the site Saturday night, the number of dead fish over a 2-mile stretch between the Alcoa Highway bridge downstream to the mouth of the Little River was estimated to be in the thousands.
Officials with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation investigated the site on Monday and found no evidence of the kill still occurring.
Shannon Ashford, a communications officer for the TDEC, said the agency will continue its investigation by evaluating local discharge permits, checking lands around the embayment for signs of a spill and contacting local residents for any unreported incidents.
“The next step is to determine if this was an isolated event, or if we receive any further information that would direct us to a source,” Ashford said.
In its investigation, the TWRA ruled out high water temperature, low dissolved oxygen and a nearby sewage treatment facility as possible causes of the fish kill. Jim Negus, a biologist with TWRA, said there was too much flow in both the Little River and Fort Loudoun Lake for dissolved oxygen levels to drop, and that the fish were not observed struggling as would be expected during a dissolved oxygen event.
“They just showed up dead,” Negus said in his report. “They could have died in a very restricted area and have been dispersed by wind, water and currents.”
Biologists counted 13 species of dead fish ranging from gizzard shad to largemouth bass. One of the largest was a striped bass that weighed 10 pounds.
TWRA spokesman Matthew Cameron said whatever caused the kill was as deadly to pollution-tolerant rough fish as it was to more sensitive species such as crappie and bass.
“It killed game fish all the way down to suckers and shad,” Cameron said. “It wasn’t specific to any one species.”
Biologists say whatever caused the die-off may already have washed downstream.
Jami Greene and her family live along the Little River right in the heart of the kill zone. On Friday, after seeing the number of dead fish increasing throughout the day, she told her children to keep themselves and the family’s English springer spaniel out of the water.
“There are still dead fish left, but it’s nothing like what happened over the weekend,” Greene said. “I’m still concerned about the kids swimming out there. We’re just waiting to see what happens.”