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Dead on the Bayous: Another Huge Fish Kill in South Louisiana

July 30, 1991

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ A new fish kill has left an eight-mile stretch of dead fish on a popular sporting river - the latest in a series of kills in which a half million fish have died in southern Louisiana rivers and bayous.

The fish - along the Blind River, 30 miles south of Baton Rouge - include bass, bluegills and gar.

As with the 12 earlier incidents this month, the cause is uncertain. And two state agencies are squabbling about the leading suspect: pesticides.

″These are the worst fish kills we’ve seen in Louisiana in the past 10 years,″ said Maureen O’Neill, assistant secretary in charge of water quality for the state Department of Environmental Quality.

The new kill was reported to state officials Monday, although fishermen said they saw crop-dusters in the area Friday and fish started dying Saturday.

Fish kills are common during summer when water loses oxygen in the heat. But finding dead gar indicates it’s not an oxygen problem, because gar can live under extreme conditions.

The environmental department has all but blamed the kills on pesticides, but the state Department of Agriculture, which regulates them, has turned the matter over to a special panel.

Agriculture officials want to wait for test results on the water before officially blaming pesticides. The Department of Environmental Quality wanted the agriculture agency to go on private property to test the soil and crops, but officials said they can’t do that.

Many of the kills have been near sugar cane fields sprayed for pests. An accessory may be record rainfall that has increased runoff from fields into streams.

Last week, the Agriculture Department said tests from seven of the fish kills found a pesticide used to kill sugar cane bugs. Department spokesman Larry Michaud said the agency wanted to wait for test results before laying blame.

″Others jumped out and said, ’Pesticide, pesticide,‴ Michaud said. ″When we refused to immediately go along with it, we were painted as some sort of bad guy.″

The environment department had some authority over pesticides until 1990, when the Legislature turned all regulation over to the Agriculture Department.

Helen Vinton, a member of the state Advisory Commission on Pesticides, said the investigation has been hampered by the agencies’ quarreling.

″The farmers are not served, the public is not served and those who illegally apply chemicals are not brought to task because of this adversarial relationship,″ Vinton said. ″The Department of Agriculture needs to show that it can handle this.″

Michaud said his agency is doing just that with a special panel of experts in health, biology and agriculture.

It’s the second time this month that fish in Blind River have died. The previous kill involved about 26,000 fish that floated belly-up along a two- mile stretch of the river.

There were no estimates of how many fish died this time.

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