Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigating fish kill on Panhandle beaches


© Nick Tomecek | GateHouse Media Services
Lauren Denny of Springfield, Mo., moves dead fish out of her way as she wades into the Gulf of Mexico on Monday near a public beach access on Okaloosa Island.

Multiple agencies, including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), are looking into why hundreds of fish are washing up on some Panhandle beaches.

Reports began rolling in over the weekend from people on beaches across Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties, according to Catalina Brown, the Fish Kill Hotline coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.

"It's too early for us to know what it could be," Brown said.

Katy Krueger was out walking on Navarre Beach on Monday morning when she encountered the dead fish.

"I counted to 100 and then I stopped counting," she said.

She said the fish looked relatively fresh and were also visible in the water. A few seagulls were around, but they didn't seem overly interested in the dead fish, Krueger said.

Brown said while they've seen photographs of the fish, the agency has a policy to only identify them in person, so the exact species washing up aren't known at this time. FWC officials said Tuesday they suspect the fish are bait fish originating from a "net dump."

Officials suspect they are bait fish.

Water samples were also collected Monday and were expected to be at the research institute for testing by Tuesday.

Staff will be looking for various types of algae in the water. If that is ruled out, other options will be considered such as a net dump from a fishing boat.

FWC hasn't had any recent reports of a red tide, she added. Algae blooms can happen at any time and the research institute is constantly monitoring Florida waters for it, according to FWC spokeswoman Kelly Richmond.

"If they were aware of a bloom, we would know about it," she said.