Infected fish caught on the Alapaha River, Berrien County, Georgia 2023-04-19

Where to report:

Update 2023-04-27: Name of the fisherman and the original poster, with link.

These fish pictures are getting shared around, and keep getting sent to Suwannee Riverkeeper. Here’s what the fish disease might be. If you see a fish like this, please stick it on ice and get it biopsied so you can know. Call us, so we can know, and we can help you find a lab.

I have provided some eye bleach for after you look at this picture.

[Infected fish 2023-04-19]
Infected fish 2023-04-19

The fish was caught in the Alapaha River in Berrien County, Georgia.

I’ve heard at least five theories for what is the problem with this fish, from most likely to least:

  1. Bacterial infection. Many bacteria live in rivers, and fish when stressed can be affected by them. The most common kind do not affect humans, fortunately. For aquarium fish, the solution is antibiotics, but of course that doesn’t work in a river. Yes, bacteria could come from sewage. But no sewage spills have been reported for the Alapaha River in quite some time, and those were far upstream on a creek.
  2. Fungal infection. There are also various fungi in rivers, which can affect fish when stressed.
  3. Sarcoma. Skin cancers can be caused by various contaminants. However, there is no obvious source of contaminants near or upstream of the fishing hole.
  4. Abrasion from washing across rocks. There are no rocks there: it’s a deep fishing hole.
  5. My favorite: lamprey eel. But only one mark is round, and the other two fish did not have any round marks.

Yesterday I talked to the fisherman. He caught three fish at a deep fishing hole, with worms and weight. This was, I think, on April 19, 2023. He has fished there for many years, and never saw anything like this before.

Update 2023-04-27: Now that I have permission to say who, the fisherman is Cliff Heath. The original facebook post was by Renee Heath.

All three fish had lesions on them. One had it bad on its nose. The one pictured was the worst.

He called a game warden, who seemed uninterested in investigating. So the fisherman threw the fish back. Which means there’s nothing to biopsy.

Update 2023-04-27: Renee Heath says they kept the fish in the boat until they died, then Cliff threw the fish in the woods (not back in the river).

I happen to be at a gathering of 80+ Waterkeepers from the Gulf and South Atlantic regions. The general consensus is that the only way to tell what disease the fish has is to biopsy it. And that’s not possible for this fish.

So, if you catch a fish with any signs of disease: please stick it in a bag and put it on ice. Then get it to a lab for autopsy.

For example, the University of Georgia veterinary diagnostic lab in Tifton, 43 Brighton Rd./P.O. Box 1389, Tifton, GA 31793, (229) 386-3340.

If you catch it in Florida, try the University of Florida.

In either state, the game wardens ought to be able to assist in getting a biopsy.

In any case, please call us, WWALS, Suwannee Riverkeeper, 850-290-2350.

I have seen this kind of thing before. On the Withlacoochee River, at Knights Ferry, where someone had just caught some bass. Others tell me they have seen similar on the Withlacoochee.

It’s maybe more understandable on the Withlacoochee River, with its long history of sewage spills, Fortunately now there are not many such spills. Knights Ferry is also downstream of Okapilco Creek, down which cattle manure washes out of Brooks County, Georgia, after big rains. There is also less of that, since the dairy farmers have been taking steps. For much more about the WWALS volunteer water quality testing program and other test results, see:

The fishing hole is a bit more than a mile downstream from Willacoochee Landing @ GA 135. It’s at the hairpin bend above the GA-FL Railroad Bridge, on the WWALS Alapaha River Water Trail (ARWT).

Finally, here’s some eye bleach after seeing that disgusting fish.

[Raccoon in tree]
Raccoon in tree

This raccoon was chased up a tree by my dogs.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

You can help with clean, swimmable, fishable, drinkable, water in the 10,000-square-mile Suwannee River Basin in Florida and Georgia by becoming a WWALS member today!