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A mysterious fish tale in Concord that smells sort of, well, fishy

  • Concord High School students Tanner Rollins (left) and Ryan Quinn look a dead fish floating near the Pierce Bridge in White Park during a Biology field trip to White Park; Wednesday, May 29, 2013.<br/>Fish have been dying in White Park pond for several days and nobody is sure why.<br/><br/>ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

    Concord High School students Tanner Rollins (left) and Ryan Quinn look a dead fish floating near the Pierce Bridge in White Park during a Biology field trip to White Park; Wednesday, May 29, 2013.
    Fish have been dying in White Park pond for several days and nobody is sure why.

    ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

  • Fish have been dying in White Park pond for several days and nobody is sure why; Wednesday, May 29, 2013.<br/><br/>ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

    Fish have been dying in White Park pond for several days and nobody is sure why; Wednesday, May 29, 2013.

    ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

  • Fish have been dying in White Park pond for several days and nobody is sure why; Wednesday, May 29, 2013.<br/><br/>ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

    Fish have been dying in White Park pond for several days and nobody is sure why; Wednesday, May 29, 2013.

    ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

  • Concord High School students Tanner Rollins (left) and Ryan Quinn look a dead fish floating near the Pierce Bridge in White Park during a Biology field trip to White Park; Wednesday, May 29, 2013.<br/>Fish have been dying in White Park pond for several days and nobody is sure why.<br/><br/>ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

    Concord High School students Tanner Rollins (left) and Ryan Quinn look a dead fish floating near the Pierce Bridge in White Park during a Biology field trip to White Park; Wednesday, May 29, 2013.
    Fish have been dying in White Park pond for several days and nobody is sure why.

    ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

  • Concord High School students Tanner Rollins (left) and Ryan Quinn look a dead fish floating near the Pierce Bridge in White Park during a Biology field trip to White Park; Wednesday, May 29, 2013.<br/>Fish have been dying in White Park pond for several days and nobody is sure why.<br/><br/>ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff
  • Fish have been dying in White Park pond for several days and nobody is sure why; Wednesday, May 29, 2013.<br/><br/>ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff
  • Fish have been dying in White Park pond for several days and nobody is sure why; Wednesday, May 29, 2013.<br/><br/>ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff
  • Concord High School students Tanner Rollins (left) and Ryan Quinn look a dead fish floating near the Pierce Bridge in White Park during a Biology field trip to White Park; Wednesday, May 29, 2013.<br/>Fish have been dying in White Park pond for several days and nobody is sure why.<br/><br/>ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff

Something smells fishy at the White Park pond.

That’s where officials have found dead goldfish and koi, close to 100 in all, since late last week, leading to an investigation that has uncovered no answers.

“We do have a mystery on our hands,” said David Neils, head of biology at the Department of Environmental Services. “We have a couple of other things we can try, and we’re sending someone out there again to grab another water sample to run it through some other water quality tests. It’ll take a couple of days to get those results back.”

Meanwhile, theories surfaced shortly after someone from the Parks and Recreation Department first noticed dead fish and alerted Neils. New Hampshire Fish and Game was also called in.

Immediately, officials suspected dissolved oxygen levels, a common cause of sudden fish deaths. To find out, Neils and an assistant took a canoe out on the pond and collected a water sample, then they began a series of tests at the department’s laboratory to find out why so many fish had died.

The oxygen level was fine.

“We didn’t find levels to be a problem at all for dissolved oxygen, which is what we would typically expect to see,” Neils said. “Then another fellow there from the water department who had a meter was reading exactly what we had, which meant it was fine.”

Next, officials looked at the water’s pH level, measuring its acidity. No cause for concern there, either.

“It was a little higher than we will typically see in New Hampshire, but there was no reason for alarm,” Neils said. “We’re within normal range, so we ruled that out as an acute problem.”

A search for dissolved solvents, always a warning sign of trouble, also turned up nothing, and neither did a microscopic analysis, which tried to detect algae, such as toxin-carrying cyanobacteria.

“It was well below the threshold that we would be concerned with,” Neils said.

That left Neils and his staff scratching their heads.

Jason Smith, chief of Fish and Game’s Inland Fisheries Division, didn’t fare better after examining dead fish by the water’s edge. Nothing caught his eye.

“I was looking for any kind of external hemorrhaging or any signs that would cause the mortality, but there was nothing I could see on the surface,” said Smith, who, like Neils, initially suspected dissolved oxygen levels. “So what we did with the samples after we looked them over is, rather than just throw them back on the ground, we bagged them up and disposed of them. We did not do any kind of analysis on them.”

That is because it has been four years since the fisheries division employed a staff pathologist, leaving Smith without the resources to probe deeper.

“Without further diagnostic capabilities,” Smith said, “I don’t want to speculate about what might have caused it.”

One solution that Neils said might work would be to allow the pond’s fountain to run beyond the daytime to help increase oxygen levels, which might dip to dangerous levels at night; prior testing was done during the day, potentially providing officials with a misleading reading.

The White Park pond is man-made, and no one knows for sure how the fish got there. They are, technically, trespassing.

“Fish and Game does not stock goldfish,” Neils said, laughing. “I’m going to guess that they were probably introduced by someone other than Fish and Game who wanted to see some fish in the nice little town park.”

Added Smith, “What is unusual about it is this is a private pond in the park that has what I allege is illegally introduced species. That’s why I didn’t devote a whole lot of time to it.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or
rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

Related

UPDATE: Report says bacterial infection killed fish in Concord’s White Park pond

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

4:23: p.m.: A report from the state shows that some of the fish from the White Park pond had a bacterial infection. Dead fish found in the White Park pond tested positive for a bacteria formally known as Aeromonas sp., according to Inga Sidor, a veterinary pathologist for the University of New Hampshire. The bacteria is common in freshwater and … 1

In early may while walking in White Park while an employee was busy cleaning the small swimming pool with concentrated chlorine, the waste product being a milky slurry of chlorine. This solution was being pumped out and was supposed to be fed into a designated drain, but the hose had temporarily come loose, and when I arrived, there was a small stream of it which had been going down the hill by the ice house and leaking directly into the pond for at least several minutes. I visit this park often and love nature and wetland biology, so I was mildly upset. I took a few pictures with my phone, and told the nearby park employees, who hurredly moved the hose back into its proper position. I considered reporting the incident to Parks and Rec., but let it go. When I started seeing numerous dead goldfish washing ashore in the following, weeks, I wondered if it was related to the chlorine incident, but was relieved to still see several schools in the pond, as well as the native Pumpkin Seed perch breeding along the shore. Goldfish have unique digestive systems which enable them to digest carbs and plant matter, so I am wondering if a temporary but sudden exposure to chlorine in the water may have caused some the casualties, but I am only speculating. I am aware that the goldfish/ carp are officially an invasive species, but I am one of the nature lovers who does not assume that everything must be native to belong, so I would like to see them remain.

It's hard to feel sorry for fish that are trespassing.

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