Commercial fisherman, former marine testifies
to negative impact of CAFOs

Neuse Riverkeeper Rick Dove testified before the Senate Committee on Government Affairs, March 13, 2002, describing his own experience with the impacts of factory hog farming in North Carolina. Here are excerpts from his opening statements.

By Rick Dove, Waterkeeper Alliance

Editor's Note:

This is the opening statement from a very long and detailed document outlining the environmental and health problems associated with concentrated feeding operations. Click here for a complete version of the Senate document .






"By 1995, we knew what was killing the fish. It was Pfiesteria piscicida, the “cell from hell,” which produces an extremely powerful neurotoxin that paralyzes fish, sloughs their skin and eats their blood cells. It is capable of doing the same thing to humans. This neurotoxin's proliferation has been directly linked to nutrient pollution from CAFOs, as well as other sources."
I want to thank Senator Lieberman and the other members of the Senate Committee on Government Affairs for scheduling these hearings and inviting me to testify before you. My testimony is presented on behalf of the Waterkeeper Alliance, a non-profit umbrella organization licensing and supporting more than 80 Waterkeepers protecting rivers, bays and other watersheds throughout the country. My testimony will address concerns about the negative impact of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and EPA’s failure to regulate such operations.


I am Rick Dove, and I have lived on the shores of the Neuse River near New Bern, North Carolina for over twenty-five years. In 1987, after retiring as a Colonel in the United States Marine Corps, I pursued a childhood dream and became a commercial fisherman. With three boats and a local seafood outlet store, my son Todd and I worked over 600 crab pots and more than 2,000 feet of gill nets. Things went well for the first two years. Then the fish began to die, many with open bleeding sores. At first it was only a few but, as time passed, the numbers grew larger and larger. Soon my son and I began to develop the same kind of sores on our legs, arms and hands. It took months for these sores to heal. I also experienced memory loss. At the time I did not connect my son’s and my health problems to my work on the water—that connection was established later.

By 1990, the situation became much worse. More and more of the fish in the Neuse River were developing bleeding lesions. Regrettably, my son Todd and I had no choice but to stop fishing. Frustrated and disappointed, I grudgingly returned to practicing law. In 1991, the Neuse suffered the largest fish kill ever recorded in the state’s history. Over one billion fish died over a period of six weeks during September and October. There were so many dead fish that some had to be bulldozed into the ground. Others were left to rot on the shore and river bottom. The stench produced by this kill was overwhelming and will never be forgotten.

In 1993, I became the Neuse Riverkeeper. In that capacity, I was a full-time, paid citizen representative of the non-profit Neuse River Foundation whose duty it was to restore, protect and enhance the waters of the 6,100 square mile Neuse River watershed. Due to ill health attributed in large measure from my exposure to the toxins in the river, my work as Neuse Riverkeeper ended in July 2000.

As the Neuse Riverkeeper, I was in a position, personally, to study the river, to work with scientists and state officials, and to closely monitor the various sources of pollution. I patrolled the river by boat, aircraft, vehicle and waders along with a corps of approximately 300 volunteers. All sources of pollution were exhaustively documented in thousands of photographs and hundreds of hours of video. By the time the next major fish fill occurred in 1995, I was in the best position to observe, report and document the cause and effect of one of the river’s most serious problems, nutrient pollution.

In the 1995 fish kill, for over 100 days, fish were once again dying in large numbers. Nearly all of them were covered with open bleeding lesions. In just 10 of those 100 days, volunteers working with the Neuse River Foundation documented more than 10,000,000 dead fish. At that time, many citizens who were exposed to this fish kill complained about a number of neurological and respiratory problems. North Carolina health authorities documented these problems and wrongly dismissed them. Later, researchers working similar fish kills on Maryland’s Pokomoke River would link these same symptoms to the cause of the fish kills, Pfiesteria piscicida.

By 1995, we knew what was killing the fish. It was Pfiesteria piscicida, a one-cell animal, so tiny 100,000 of them would fit on the head of a pin. This creature, often referred to as the “cell from hell” produces an extremely powerful neurotoxin that paralyzes the fish, sloughs their skin and eats their blood cells. It is capable of doing the same thing to humans. This neurotoxin is volatized to the air and is known to cause serious health problems, including memory loss, in humans who breathe it. Its proliferation has been directly linked to nutrient pollution from CAFOs, as well as other sources. One of the most exhaustive websites related to Pfiesteria piscicida can be found at

The fish kills continue today. Depending upon weather conditions, some years are worse than others. Many smaller kills are not even counted. Fishermen continue to report neurological and respiratory symptoms, and a dark cloud still hangs over the state’s environmental reputation and economy.

From an office located in North Carolina, I now serve as the Southeastern Representative of Waterkeeper Alliance. The Alliance’s headquarters is located in White Plains, New York. A major part of my duties involves assisting other Waterkeepers and investigating and documenting the environmental degradation resulting from CAFO operations, especially those involving hogs.