Hundreds of dead fish found washed up along Chautauqua Lake, New York, America

Hundreds of dead fish have been discovered along Bemus Point on Chautauqua Lake. 

With the ice melting off the lake, westerly winds began washing many of the floating, dead fish onto the shoreline Friday evening, piling up the silvery bodies in front of cabins and onto beaches. By Saturday evening the numbers had increased into the hundreds and were of some concern. 

Local authorities surmise the dead fish have succumbed to what is termed a “winter fish kill.”

Though the numbers are significant, they are not deemed to be any danger to the public health, more of a smelly nuisance. Opinions on how to dispose of the fish have been varied. Some proposed just leaving the fish for the coons and gulls.

With the temperatures still cool, the fish have not yet presented a problem. When the weather warms and decomposition begins, the smell cannot help but become of concern. A single dead fish can produce a strong odor; hundreds of rotting fish could well become unbearable.

Local residents can’t recall a fish kill like this other than the carp virus epidemic years back. Debbie Loomis, whose lakefront property has been in the family for over 100 years, has never seen as many white bass, perch, crappies and bass die off in such numbers before.

The Department of Environmental Conversation feels the best solution for those concerned with the dead fish in front of their homes and cottages should be to bury them or take them to a landfill. 

Scott Cornett, fishery biologist for the DEC, said, “Take them to the landfill. The birds, gulls and other scavengers will clean them up fairly quickly, but if they are worried about them right away: bury.”

Residents are concerned about transporting numbers of dead fish in their cars for obvious reasons. Others suggested having county prisoners put to work cleaning up the mess and transporting the fish to the landfill in county work trucks.

Officials feel the winter kill was caused by the extremely cold weather and the thick ice depths the below-zero temperatures created. Fish living in shallower bays can become trapped by the thick ice. The water’s depth shrinks as the ice freezes ever thicker ,trapping the fish between three feet of ice and the bottom. Decaying vegetation further depletes the oxygen levels and the fish suddenly find themselves in perilous circumstances.

Officials didn’t believe any type of disease, spill or pollution was to blame for the kill. However, in order to test for disease the fish would have to be alive.

Though hundreds, possibly thousands of fish have died, the great majority have been white perch, one of the most numerous fish species in the lake. There are so many white perch in Chautauqua Lake that far more would have to have died to make any significant impact on their population, according to the DEC.

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