Fish carcasses causing a stink

  • Thursday, August 8, 2013

Photos by Sparky witte Dead fish often float up Shem Creek.


The site and smell of decomposing fish in Shem Creek has residents and recreation enthusiasts pinching their noses this summer.

Commercial fishermen can be seen on the docks that line the creek filleting their catch and throwing the carcasses into the water.

Depending on the tide, the carcasses either sink to the bottom or float upstream toward residential docks or out to Charleston Harbor.

In one afternoon, several carcasses at a time can be seen floating by.

Disposing of dead fish in the creek has been done for years.

South Carolina released a Clean Marina Guidebook, produced by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management in cooperation with the South Carolina Marine Association (Revised 2010).

The guidebook is just that and suggests that marinas require no fish scraps be dumped in marina basins. But Shem Creek is not a marina.

Marinas that follow this guidebook provide fish cleaning stations, encourage anglers to bag the scraps and dispose of the waste in dumpsters or at home; freeze and reuse scraps as chum or bait; or save and dispose over deep water.

The guidebook states that too much fish waste in a poorly circulated marina basin can lower oxygen levels in the water. As the waste decomposes, it can lead to foul odor and fish kills. Floating fish parts are also an unsightly addition to marina waters.

There are no legal requirements banning fish scrap dumping, but there are suggested management practices.

The simplest policy for Shem Creek, according to DHEC, would be to post signs banning the practice and to not permit fish cleaning on docks and floating docks.

The problem is it is illegal to clean fish offshore. By law you have to bring the fish in whole.

According to Brett Witt, spokesperson for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, marine fish need to be landed intact. Otherwise law enforcement could not verify creel and size.

SECTION 50‑5‑1710 requires that “finfish species named in this section [estuarine and saltwater fish] must be brought to the dock or landed with head and tail fin intact.”

He said he is not aware of any DNR regulations relating to the disposal in Shem Creek.

Most fishermen will tell you that the best way to sink a fish is by popping the eyes, popping the swim bladder and breaking its back. There will be the occasional fish that does not sink, however.

Jim Beasley, Public Information Officer for S.C. DHEC said, “The disposal of fish waste within inshore waters, particularly within marina basins, is discouraged due to the potential negative impact to water quality and dissolved oxygen content. DHEC encourages recreational fishers to compost fish waste, recycle it as bait, or properly dispose of it with household trash. Through the networked Clean Marina Program, DHEC also encourages marinas to provide fish cleaning stations and to prohibit the disposal of fish waste into surrounding waters.”

Jimmy Purcell, part-owner of Water’s Edge Restaurant on Shem Creek said he would rather see the fish than spilled diesel fuel any day.

“The fish heads, shrimp heads and shrimp boat bycatch are all natural and will feed other animals and eventually break down,” he said. “Diesel fuel - not so much.”

Rial Fitch, owner of Mount Pleasant Seafood had similar thoughts. None of their by-products go in the creek, he explained. They are sold. “We sell our heads, such as big grouper and salmon heads, for fish chowder and fish stock and we sell the small ones for crab bait.”

Commercial boats have tied up along the docks for quite some time now, none of whom have any affiliation with Mount Pleasant Seafood.

“The Thunderstar (a former commercial fishing charter boat) used to come in and the crew would clean the catch and throw the fish to the pelicans that came everyday waiting for it,” he said.

He doesn’t consider this an environmental hazard.

“The shrimp heads, fish heads and all have been going into Shem Creek forever. Perhaps it is viewed as a problem now because of all new boaters out there,” he said. “But I’d say it is not something I see as a problem because most of them sink and the crabs eat them.”

Review the guidebook at http://www.scdhec.gov/administration/library/cr-006968.pdf.

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