New report reveals one fish kill incident a week in Ohio. Wildlife officers quick to respond and charge polluters, but fines rarely reflect full value of damage

On average a pollution spill or leak kills more than a thousand fish and other wildlife each week in an Ohio waterway. The majority of fish kills are linked to agricultural operationsóhowever, the source of many fish kills remain unknown. State wildlife protection officers do a good job of investigating and charging polluters for killed wildlife, but fines paid by polluters rarely represent the full value of damage to a waterway and its wildlife.

Those are among the findings of a comprehensive report authored by the Ohio Environmental Council that analyzed 356 documented fish kill investigations that took place in Ohio waterways between January 1997 and September 2002.

Other findings of the report include:

* More than half a million fish and other wildlife perished as a result of water pollution incidents.

* On average, 1,576 fish were killed per documented fish kill incident.

* Agriculture is the leading cause of fish killsóaccounting for 30% of all documented fish kills where the type of polluter was identified.

* The source of many fish kills is unknownóaccounting for 23% of all documented fish kills. This is largely due to polluters' negligence to notify proper authorities of a pollution incident.

* The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife is quick to respond to reported fish kills, but the documentation of fish kill incidents is sometimes incon sistent and incomplete.

* State wildlife officers almost always issue a fine, but the fines issued to polluters for fish kill incidents typically do not reflect the full extent of environmental damage or the magnitude of the fish kill. The average monetary fine placed on a fish killed was only 16 cents per fish, but often this does not account for other critical stream wildlife such as mussels or insects.

* The ODNR Division of Wildlife wielded its full authority to charge polluters for environmental damage in only 5% of major fish kill incidents.

"State wildlife officers are quick to investigate and almost always charge polluters for fish kills. But, fines assessed often do not represent the full value of environmental damage and wildlife killed," said report author and Ohio Environmental Council staffer Ellen Hawkey. "Ohio should redouble its efforts to hold polluters accountable for fish kills. It can start by penalizing offenders for not just the number of dead fish, but for all of the wildlife killed and habitat damaged by a pollution incident." Based on its findings, the OEC is recommending that state regulators and lawmakers adopt the following improvements:

* Increase fines for fish kills to better reflect the full damage to a polluted waterway and to account for all wildlife killed.

* Penalize polluters who neglect to report pollution incidents.

* Consistently assess fines for environmental degradation and stream litter charges.

* Establish a memorandum of agreement between govern ment agencies on how to alert one another and share information on fish kills and pollution incidents.

* Upgrade technologies used by the ODNR Division of Wildlife to document, investigate and report fish kill incidents, such as GPS units and Personal Digital Assistants.

* Implement necessary actions and regulations to prevent fish killsóincluding better enforcement of pollution abatement rules and more protective permit conditions on agricultural and other operations. "Ohio must resolve to be a leader in protecting the health of our streams, rivers and lakes," said Ray Zehler, Executive Director, Ohio Division of the Izaak Walton League of America. "Additional measures must be taken to conserve Ohio's waterways for the protection of macro-invertebrates, fish and other wildlife." Protecting the health of Ohio waterways benefits Ohio's economy as well as wildlife.

"Sports fishing greatly benefits Ohio's economy by supporting 23,000 jobs and generating more than $2 billion in economic output," said Dennis Becker, President, Ohio B.A.S.S. Chapter Federation. "Taking steps to protect the quality of our waterways is in everyone's best interest."

To compile this report, the OEC analyzed 356 fish kill incidents documented by the ODNR Division of Wildlife between January 1997 and September 2002. The OEC also interviewed agency officials, sportsmen and watershed coordinators.

A copy of the report, Dead in the Water: A comprehensive analysis of fish kills in Ohio can be downloaded at

The Ohio Environmental Council is a network of more than 100 conservation and environmental organizations that advocates for clean air, clean water and the protection of Ohio's natural resources. Susan Studer works at the Ohio Environmental Council; 1207 Grandview Ave., Ste. 201; Columbus, OH 43212;

voice (614-487-7506); fax (614-487-7510);;

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