North Carolina State University

Outbreak of toxic Pfiesteria in 1997 hurt many — but boosted Chesapeake cleanup

Outbreak of toxic Pfiesteria in 1997 hurt many — but boosted Chesapeake cleanup

Marion East, a retired waterman, recalls the “tingling sensation” he felt when he pulled fish out of the Pocomoke River 20 years ago this summer.

“When you put your hands in the water, it was about like you were getting a shock,” the Crisfield man said.

That was how East, now 73, encountered the toxic microscopic creature that dominated the news in Maryland during the summer and fall of 1997. East and other watermen describe vast stretches of water littered with dead fish with strange-looking sores in the Pocomoke and other Chesapeake Bay tributaries.

Scientists called it Pfiesteria piscicida — the second word being Latin for “fish killer.” Headline writers...

70°