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Role of the Fish Kill Hotline

FWC scientists study disease and mortality in wild fish populations, and reports of dead and diseased fish to the FWC Fish Kill Hotline help us respond appropriately to disease events.

The Fish and Wildlife Health (FWH) group, based in St. Petersburg at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, the research arm of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), manages and maintains the FWC Fish Kill Hotline (FKH). We study disease and mortality in wild fish populations, and reports of dead and diseased fish to the FWC Fish Kill Hotline help us respond appropriately to disease events. 

During large fish kill events, FWH staff collaborate with FWC staff and other partner agencies to initiate event response. During event response, the cause of the kill is investigated. The FWH team gathers and analyzes data from field investigations, and a variety of samples may be collected through collaboration with other groups, including FWC’s Harmful Algal Blooms group, Fish Biology, Law Enforcement and Fisheries Dependent Monitoring. Typically, FWH staff study naturally occurring causes of fish kills, such as algal blooms, low dissolved oxygen, and low dissolved oxygen caused by algal blooms. In addition, FWH staff study diseases in wild fish populations related to water quality conditions, such as salinity and pH.

When FWH staff suspect a population of wild fish has been affected by parasites or disease, the role of FWH is to work closely with charter boat captains, anglers and citizens to try to determine the cause of the disease. During those type of cases, staff go on-site to collect fresh samples, which are brought back to the FWH lab, where tissue is processed for tests, including bacteriology and histology. However, those cases are based on numerous reports over a prolonged period, with initially freshly caught fish showing clinical signs of disease.

FWH staff encourage the public to participate as citizen scientists and assist with this research. When a member of the public calls the hotline, they provide valuable information that is included in a long-term, statewide dataset to monitor the health of Florida’s fish and wildlife.  The public’s participation is crucial in helping track fish kills and disease outbreaks. Public reports give FWH staff the opportunity to answer questions, provide educational information and possibly identify fish kill trends over time. Every report is documented in the searchable fish kill database, available online.

Please keep in mind that while the FWC seeks reports of fish kills for research purposes, the agency does not oversee private water systems or cleanup procedures. Typically, private system fish kill reports are forwarded to the Home Owners Association (HOA) or the caller is advised to contact a private lake maintenance company. FWH staff provide assistance to the report initiator with information on fish kills, provide the phone numbers to various partner agencies and offer educational brochures. FWH will respond to an event in a private water system, under the following circumstances:

  1. Dead birds or other dead wildlife
  2. Request from another agency
  3. Human/domestic animal health issues

St. Joseph State Park fish kill event, September 2014.