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Fish kill total soaring

June 24, 2009 at 03:19 PM

Due to rising water levels and hot weather, counting dead fish along the Rock River has been difficult for Illinois fisheries biologists.

But sources say the count of fish killed along the Rock River could reach into the hundreds of thousands.

The fish kill almost certainly stems from a train derailment and ethanol spill near Rockford last Friday. While no official report has been issued, it is believed that ethanol flowed into a creek, into the Kishwaukee River and then into the Rock River, where dead fish started to show up last Saturday.

The Environmental Protection Agency has listed two possible causes for the fish kill: weather or the ethanol leak. “One of the theories, mind you a theory and it’s not definite is that potentially the microbes in the water broke down the ethanol and created a by product that’s more dangerous to the fish,” says Illinois EPA spokesperson Dennis McMurray.

As of Wednesday, the fish kill appears to have ended.

“What’s floating down the river now has been dead a day or so,” said Mike Coffey, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “It appears the fish kill is done.”

The kill was particularly hard on bottom-dwelling fish like channel catfish, flathead catfish, suckers and carp suckers.

“I saw one or two flatheads that were pushing 50 pounds,” said Rob Hilsabeck, a fisheries biologist summoned to help count dead fish. “This was really hard on the flatheads and channel cats.”

The brunt of the kill appears to have been from near Grand Detour to Prophetstown, a 53.6-mile stretch of the river. But dead fish have been spotted in a five-county stretch of river from Rockford to the Quad Cities.

Fishing guide Matt Jones, who operates out of the Prophetstown area, said he started hearing reports of scattered dead fish on Sunday.

“Then it just exploded. It went from a couple dead fish to a nightmare,” Jones said. “I didn’t take any pictures because I couldn’t. There were reports here at times there were 5,000 to 7,000 dead fish floating past us here per hour. Lots of big, old dead flatheads, channel cats, walleyes. I’ve seen smallmouth bass, shad, carp, buffalo and gar.”

“From Grand Detour to Sterling is completely devastated. It’s going to have to be restocked, I think. And we’re going to have to implement some size and creel limits to help that pool recover.”


Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Thank you Jeff Lampe and Matt Jones for finally getting the word out about how devastating this fish kill is.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/24 at 04:22 PM

I don’t think that it is the weather.  It has not been hot for that long.  Someone better get in trouble!!!  EPA lets think about it… Weather or ethanol to completely differnt things.  One is natrual and the other man made… Way to go… There’s something wrong here…

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/24 at 09:01 PM

All of us fellow fisherman regardless if you fish for cats, Bass, walleye etc are being affected by this tragedy. We need to stand as a single body of fisherman and fight to get our beloved Rock river back to the way it was!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/24 at 11:31 PM

Instead of fighting to get the river back, you could simply volunteer to help out.

Posted by PondGuy on 06/25 at 06:59 AM

ethanol is the most inefficent form of energy. It is so poor that it can not be pushed through a pipeline like regular gasoline. So it moves by railroad and these accidents are the consequence. If not for the government blend credit, this whole ethanol industry would be gone. Ethanol is a lose lose battle and I work in IL agriculture.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/25 at 07:15 AM

k man i can only kind of agree with you on ethanol. corn based ethanol is not the way to go. sugar cane and switch grass would be ok however with sugar cane we would still be stuck with the import problem since there is very little area in the u.s. that could grow cane. the real problem is the oil companys and their greed that have surpressed looking for other options. i am in firm belief that if we could safely put a man on the moon 40+ years ago and return him, we should be able to easily either get 100mpg (at least) or have something else we can fairly easily produce that is cheap and efficient to burn in our vehicles.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/25 at 07:52 AM

Pond Guy, how do you know he hasn’t volunteered to help out? Although at this time I don’t know what help would be needed other than counting dead fish. It’s pretty easy to understand the anger of the people along the Rock river. Sadly it will take time(even with restocking) to get it back to the way it was. I wish these folks the best of luck.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/25 at 08:07 AM

k man, you are wrong on so many fronts.  Ethanol can be transported through pipelines, just not the ones currently in use in the US.  The US infrastructure is based on 50+ year old ideals and technology.  When ethanol blended fuel first started being used there were a lot of older cars that were having problems with seals degrading.  it was discovered that a simple change in material in those seals cured the problem.  Ask Brazil about ethanol and pipelines.  They don’t seem to be concerned about running ethanol through them.  They will become the next OPEC while the US drags its feet clinging to oil…
  Ethanol itself is a very efficient form of energy.  The problem in the US is that we are so in love with oil that nothing has been made to efficiently use ethanol, and we are also using one of the most difficult plants to extract it from as a production model.  Corn was easy to start researching with because it’s readily available.
  If an internal combustion engine was designed around E85 as a primary fuel source instead of the red headed step child of gasoline, it could perform as well, if not better, than gasoline.  The higher octane in ethanol requires a much higher compression ratio for the engine to run efficiently.  Current flex-fuel only retard the ignition curve much like you would on an older car if it was “pinging” when an E85 mix is detected.
  Ongoing research is finding more and more better crops for ethanol then corn.  Switchgrass, sugar cane, tropical maize, and others have shown to be much better options for producing ethanol than corn. 
  So shipping ethanol CAUSED the derailment???  That’s like saying electricity caused a power pole to snap in half Thursday morning because it was being supported by the pole…  This accident wasn’t a consequence of shipping ethanol by rail.  More than likely it was a consequence of super saturated ground from the record rains of this spring and summer.  Derailments happen just like car accidents, pipeline leaks, and oil tanker spills.  You should do some research and find out how much real hazardous materials are being transported by rail through you back yard before making absurd comments like that.
  Do a search and read some scientific research on ethanol (not just corn) and other biofuels and stop believing everything you read on MSNBC or CNN.  There are still a lot of people making a lot of money on fossil fuels that don’t want to see any alternative energy sources succeed.  I don’t believe that corn ethanol is the cure for energy needs but the research gained from it may produce a form of ethanol that could be.
  No I’m not a greedy farmer, just a farmer with a degree in Agricultural Engineering…

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/25 at 08:29 AM

Now, back to the story at hand…
  I lived in Oregon for a few years and know there were some big fish pulled out of the river and some very good smallmouth fishing as well.  It’s a shame to see a good fishery devastated like this.  I wonder what the lack of fish will do to the nesting eagle population.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/25 at 08:38 AM

What the real issue here is the damage that has been done to this stretch of the river. It has taken a long time and alot of effort to make this what it was, and in a single stroke it was all wiped out. Accidents happen and finger pointing won’t help. If there was neglegence, yes, make them pay. But the the thing to do now is to assess the damage and try to repair it. This stretch of the river was premier catfish waters. It was also full of walleye and smallmouth. How hard was it hit. How much were the populations decimated. What affect did it have on the other things that depend on the river. The ducks,geese,cormorants, deer,racoons possums,skunks. Not to mention the aquatic vegetation and mussel beds. All of these things play a part in the health of a waterway. One thing leads to another my friend. We are all connected, we all live downstream.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/25 at 08:41 AM

i do have to raise a couple questions about this ethanol killing the fish theory. the accident happened well north of where the fish are showing up dead, south side of rockford. the ethanol that is being blamed dumped into the kishwaukee river and then apparently drifted down into the rock. my question is how come the fish kill doesn’t appear to begin until about 15-20 miles down stream? wouldn’t it kill fish beginning with the entry point and not 15-20 miles down stream? i have been reading about this terrible situation on a few other websites including and it is starting to sound like the fish in the kish around this point are fine. anyone have any answers?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/25 at 09:08 AM

Jakeb, in the article it mentions that the EPA has some theories one of which is the microbes in the water broke down the ethanol which then became dangerous to the fish. How long that took to happen or fast the current is or it took that long to affect the whole river so the fish had no un polluted water to move to are questions that I don’t believe they have answers to yet

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/25 at 09:58 AM

Jeff2020,we must have been pecking away at the same time.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/25 at 10:01 AM

Time to go, your correct. It took sometime for the ethanol to break down and turn into the toxin that killed the fish.  Thats why we saw the kill downstream.  Someone mentioned paying for this accident.  Don’t worry, they will.  There is word floating around that the railroad was notified there had been a portion of the track washed out by heavy rains.  If that is the case then they will pay big and not only for the fish.  Remember a human lost her life while sitting at a crossing.
I have never fished the Rock but I have heard nothing but great things about it.  I have also heard the kill could of been worse but due to the river being up alot of fish were up in the tributaries. Anyway, its a sad thing for the fishermen whom fished that river.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/25 at 01:18 PM

i live in Freeport IL 20 minutes from the train derailment.  this is what i know.  The railroad was informed by police 21 minutes before the derailment that there was railroad ties washed out and water on the tracks.  For whatever reason they were unable to stop the train in that time frame.  Second i am not sure the railroad is the only one to blame here.  the fire dept. estimates they put nearly 1 million gallons of water on the ethanol fire.  therefore allowing the run off into the tributary of the rock river. the fire could have burned itself out with out water or foam could have been used.  lawyers and insurance are going to fight over this for years.  it is a shame the river wont be the same for at least 20 - 25 years

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/25 at 02:42 PM

i guess it doesnt have the ?best tasting catfish in illinois? anymore!
Posted by illinoisbonecollector on 06/25 at 12:10 PM

true it may not be best tasting anymore.  However it might be the last meal you eat!

What a shame, it was a very good fishery and getting better. It went down the crapper it two days.  I smell a big lawsuit.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/25 at 06:45 PM

snshunter- if you consider all corn subsidies, ethanol subsidies, polution from the growing of the corn, rise in food prices because corn is used for ethanol instead of feed and it is a huge government boondoggle! factor in the decreased gas mileage and it is a total joke and nothing more then a way to subsidies farming.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/25 at 08:14 PM

snshunts- ETHANOL is super expensive, and it is not the ticket to solving any kind of energy problem, and in fact it costs more to make than it saves.  there is no need to burn perfectly good corn.
nobody in their right mind burns ethanol in any motor, it corrosion is unbelievable.

and on another note, ethanol cant survive on its own without billions in subsidies. if it really was the answer, the stupid concept would survive on its own instead of being on lifeline since the concept originated.

In a report released by University of Minnesota researchers, they claim that ethanol would only supply 12.3% of our current consumption of fuel even if every single acre of corn in America was utilized.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/25 at 09:26 PM

Guys, read my WHOLE post, not just the parts you want to pick apart.  I said CORN ethanol is NOT the END ALL alternative fuel.  There are BETTER sources to produce ethanol from than CORN!!!
  I am seriously about done with this website due to the hot-headed, fly off at the mouth comments by many that do not research their wild accusations and comments, as well as put words into others’ posts. 
  If big oil companies would have put as much money into researching alternative energy starting 40 years ago as they have into stifling it, we wouldn’t even be having this debate!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/26 at 07:54 AM

Did anyone consider that if our DNR were fully funded, that they might have had the wherewithall to have responded a little quicker to the reports of fish kills in the Rock River, and been able to mobilize and get more and better water samples to find out what really happened there?

Is it still true that the CPO’s are riding bicycles to do their rounds, because they don’t have enough gasoline allowance to make vehicle patrols?  How is that State Budget coming along afterall?  There is plenty of blame to go around, without attacking the railroads and the ethanol industries.  If they knew about the “wash out” on the railroad track, why wasn’t a deputy sheriff dispatched to flag down the train?  The public should have a lot of questions concerning this disaster and let’s hope that there will be some answers forthcoming on this one.  Every outraged angler/citizen in the State of Illinois should be telephoning and sending letters to there legislators today, demanding a full investigation into this matter and make sure that it remains front-page news.  That’s the only way the system will change to prevent things like this from happening in the future!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/26 at 07:59 AM

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