An estimated 14,000 pounds of blue catfish are set to be released Friday (June 15) into the Pearl River near Picayune as part of the recovery effort following a massive fish kill last year, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks announced.

More than 200,000 fish and freshwater mussels were killed after an equipment malfunction at Temple-Inland Paper Mill in Bogalusa, La., caused a spill of paper-making byproducts that depleted oxygen in the river's water.

The MDWFP is teaming up with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality to stock the harvestable-sized catfish near Walkiah Bluff.

The catfish, donated by a Mississippi catfish producer, range in weight from five to more than 20 lbs. They will be ready to spawn next summer, said Curtis Summerlin, hatchery supervisor at MDWFP.

This marks the fourth stocking in the Pearl River since the spill, which killed fish and freshwater mussels along 80 miles of the Pearl River, including about 40 miles of the river along the Mississippi border.

The company has agreed to pay a $100,000 fine, $220,000 for fish stocking and $45,000 to reimburse MDEQ for response and recovery costs.

To date, approximately 2,500 largemouth bass, 8,541 channel catfish and 118,950 redear sunfish (shellcracker or chinquapin) have been released in Pearl River. Additional fish will be stocked as they become available from MDWFP fish hatcheries.

"Next year, these fish will be spawning and producing young blue catfish to help replenish the numbers in the river," Summerlin said. "It's our way of helping the Pearl River recover from this man-made accident."

MDEQ has instructed Temple-Inland to pay for infrastructure upgrades as a condition of reopening.

"The fish kill in August was devastating in the lower Pearl River, and we moved as quickly as possible with the enforcement action and settlement to restock the river and begin the process of bringing it back to a normal, healthy state," said Trudy D. Fisher, MDEQ executive director.

MDWFP's Sam Polles said the goal is to increase fishing opportunities.

"The recovery of the lower Pearl River following last summer's fish kill is extremely important," Polles said. "Our agencies are working diligently to produce and stock fish needed for the river's recovery."