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EPD: Ogeechee fish OK to eat
But cause of 'stress' for fish kill still unknown
FISH KILL file for Web
In this photo from last week, Ogeechee Riverkeeper director Diana Wedincamp collects a dead fish on the Ogeechee River near U.S. 301. The EPD said fish caught from the river is now OK to eat. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/file

      It’s safe to eat fish caught from the Ogeechee River, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division said Friday.
      The announcement came a week after a ban was lifted on swimming in the river, and two weeks after a massive fish kill left thousands of dead fish on the banks of the south Georgia blackwater river.
      Tests on fish tissue conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found no reason to avoid consuming fish caught from the river, said Kevin Chambers, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources EPD.
      Earlier tests found the fish died from a severe outbreak of columnaris, a bacteria caused by “environmental stress.” The cause of that stress has yet to be determined.
      “Based on laboratory analysis, fish caught in the Ogeechee River are safe to eat,” said Jim Ussery, assistant EPD Director. “Even though we are lifting the advisories for swimming and fish consumption, this does not mean our investigation has ended. We will continue to look for the cause of the fish kill.”
      Whole body fish tissue was analyzed from small-mouth bass, large-mouth bass, bullhead catfish, bowfin and pickerel, Chambers said. 
      Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn said he learned from a conference call with state and local emergency management officials that the “EPD continues to try and identify the cause of the stress on the fish.”
      He also learned state officials “did do some electrofishing from U.S. 301 up to the start of the kill and found redbreast, bass and gar.”
      Dianna Wedincamp with the Ogeechee Riverkeeper said she traced the origin of the fish kill to an area near about six miles north of the U.S. 301 landing, near the site of a discharge pipe at King America Finishing, a textiles treatment plant.
No dead fish were located north of that spot, she said.
      King America Finishing President Mike Beasley said Friday he doesn’t know of any incident that could have caused the fish kill. When asked about the origin being traced to the plant’s discharge pipe, he said “I don’t have any response to that. The (government agencies including EPD and EPA) are investigating the fish kill. I’m depending on them to come up with the answers.”
      While monitoring the fish population in that area, state officials “did not see spotted sunfish or bluegill,” Wynn said. “This means, according to them, there are some broodfish that will assist in restocking the area.”
      Officials did not say how long recovery would take, he said. Another conference call is slated for Tuesday at 10 a.m.
      While columnaris is not known to affect humans, several citizens called area health agencies with reports of rashes, nausea, blisters and diarrhea. Health authorities have not linked any illness to the river issues, and EPD officials recommend anyone with any health questions should contact their personal physicians.
      Citizens concerned about the Ogeechee River and the recent fish kill are invited to a public meeting Sunday at 5 p.m. at the old Dashers landing on U.S. 80 near the Bryan/Effingham county line.
      Organizer Wayne Carney said Sen. Jack Hill, state Rep. Jan Tankersley, and other legislators are expected to attend the meeting, as well as Wedincamp and officials from the Environmental Protection Division.
      For more information, contact the Ogeechee Riverkeeper at (866) 942-6222 or Carney at (912) 858-2708.

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