It's encouraging to know there is a perfectly natural cause for the hundreds of dead fish that recently washed ashore in the Bemus Point area.
The problem was caused by an unusually cold, harsh winter that caused a phenomenon known as a winter fish kill - a normal occurrence during this time of the year that typically happens after long, harsh winters in shallow lakes such as Chautauqua Lake. The phenomenon has hit lakes across the country this year, particularly in harsh cold-weather areas like Minnesota or Indiana. 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. The fish that washed ashore were likely dead for weeks, but no one knew about them until strong winds over the weekend pushed the fish into the Shore Acres area of Bemus Point.
While the dead fish pose no danger, they will begin to decay more rapidly as the weather gets warmer. State Department of Environmental Conservation officials plan to let Mother Nature take its course and allow seagulls and other birds to feed on the fish. It is a solution that makes environmental sense, but doesn't help homeowners stuck with hundreds of decaying, stinking fish.
Many lake property owners have experience dealing with a few dead fish or the dead weeds that invariably show up on their property during the warmer months. That is a responsibility they should be prepared to handle as a lakefront property owner. Hundreds of dead fish is another matter entirely, in our view, because some jobs are simply too big for an individual property owner.
Given the value of property around the lake and the importance placed each year on making the lake pleasant for visitors, it should go without saying fish carcasses are not what tourism officials want greeting summer visitors this year. As discussions about Chautauqua Lake's issues continue this year, one area of discussion should be how those involved in lake maintenance can help property owners with big clean-ups such as these dead fish in Bemus Point.
Effective handling of such situations is necessary if we want Chautauqua Lake to continue being taken seriously as a vacation destination.