BEMUS POINT - Hundreds of dead fish have floated into Bemus Point.
Christine Schuyler, director of the Chautauqua County Department of Health and Human Services, said she feels this is a result of a "winter fish kill." She said while the dead fish are a nuisance, they're not dangerous to the public's health.
A winter fish kill is a normal phenomenon during this time of the year, especially after long harsh winters in shallow lakes, such as Chautauqua. In short, the fish suffocate underneath the ice because there isn't enough oxygen content closer to the surface. This winter there was no real period of thawing allowing for the oxygen level of the lake to recharge, Schuyler said.
Photo by Mallory Diefenbach
Dead fish clog up a small creek basin running next to Shore Acres Boat Yard in Bemus Point.
"No one ever notices dead fish there until the ice melts and then the dead fish are washed up along the edge (of the shore)," Schuyler said. "It has been very windy these last few days, and I guess that has also helped get the fish to shore."
The Department of Health and Human Services' current educated guess is some of the fish are gizzard shads - a type of fish that stays closer to the surface. So, they are much more vulnerable to climate and weather changes. The gizzard shad has been found dead in the last week along the Pennsylvania-New York line and the Ohio shore of Lake Erie.
"They are having the same issues along Lake Erie," she said.
Other types of fish - such as silver bass and white perch - have been identified on the Chautauqua shoreline by local fishermen.
While the fish pose no danger, they will begin to decay as it gets warmer. It would fall into the Department of Environmental Conversation's duties to pick up the dead fish, but according to Schuyler, the DEC usually lets Mother Nature take its course. Seagulls and other birds will feed on the fish.
The Department of Health and Human Services has referred this to the DEC for the formal investigation.
The Post-Journal also talked to local residents, learning a rough sequence of events which led to the discovery of the mass migration of the dead fish from the lake to the shores of Bemus Point.
The fish first started to wash up on shore Friday around 4 p.m., according to Dick Sparling, owner of Shore Acres Boat Yard on Route 430 in Bemus Point. He said the wind began to blow them on to the land, and that the area they covered stretched 20 feet wide.
Debbie Loomis, a Bemus Point resident with lakefront property on Lakeside Drive, said a few dead fish littered the shore Friday night when her husband and her son took their dog for a walk. The next day, however, when she went down with her son and his cousin, hundreds of fish lined the coast. She said she walked down the coast a quarter of a mile, and the boys started to count the fish to see how many there were. They grew tired after 685.
"It's the worst that I've ever seen," Sparling said, saying when he called the DEC, they told him the cause was thermal shock - the reaction fish have when put into an environment with a sudden temperature change.
Loomis said the lakefront property has been in her husband's family for 100 years, and besides the carp problem a few years ago where they were dying due to a virus, they never remembered seeing anything quite like this before.
"It was disturbing because our dog will eat anything, she's a black lab and she'll eat half-dead fish that have been there for a couple of days," said Loomis. "Well it was really strange, my husband said she was with him the night before there was just a couple dead, and the dog went to pick it up and immediately dropped it back down."
DEC representatives were unavailable for comment Monday.