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VA’s Tinker Creek Fish Kill

leah kirk

Mark Taylor

From the banks of Tinker Creek, a tributary of the Roanoke River here in my home city of Roanoke, Va., I scanned the water. Dozens of fish floated belly-up, hung up in the current on rocks and streamside brush.

Upstream from this spot a few days prior, a leaking chemical tank had spilled its contents into the watershed. The chemical was Termix 5301, which is added to pesticides and herbicides before they are applied to crops.

Only about 165 gallons of the concentrated chemical leaked into the watershed, but it was enough to kill “tens of thousands of fish” reaching more than 4 miles downstream.  The dead fish included smallmouth bass, rock bass, sunfish and large suckers. Tinker Creek is not a particularly big stream nor is it a blue ribbon fishery. But it’s a cool and pretty stream in a big city. It’s stocked with trout in the cooler months and is not a bad place to chase sunfish and bass with a fly rod on a hot summer day.

e chemical didn’t spill directly into Tinker Creek. According to Crop Production Services, the chemical went into a “ditch that is normally dry.” Heavy rains washed it into a Tinker Creek tributary. From there, it eventually seeped into Tinker Creek and killed those tens of thousands of fish because, well, water flows downhill.

Mark Taylor is the eastern communications director for Trout Unlimited. He lives in Roanoke and covered the debut of Virginia's Trout Heritage Day on Tinker Creek when he was the outdoors reporter at The Roanoke Times.