Large fish kill hits western Lake Erie
Written by The Plain Dealer   
Sunday, 07 May 2006 05:02

An exceptionally large number of dead fish are littering Lake Erie beaches, disturbing lakefront residents and raising concern among state wildlife officials. It's much more extensive than we've seen," said Jeff Tyson, fisheries biologist supervisor with the state's Sandusky Fish Research Unit.

The dead fish are primarily freshwater drum, or sheephead, which is not a popular sport fish. The concentrated kills have been found in the western basin of Lake Erie, in Sandusky Bay and as far east as Vermilion.

Last week, Tyson sent samples to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in La Crosse, Wis. Preliminary reports indicate the fish died of a viral infection, but more testing is needed to determine the strain.

"My worst fear, I suppose, is that the virus was transported by ballast discharge" from foreign ships, Tyson said. If so, fish native to the Great Lakes would not have a natural resistance to the disease.

Scott Doty, manager of the Lake Erie Islands State Parks, said he has gotten several calls from lakefront property owners curious about all the dead fish. His staff has had to clean the beach at Catawba Island State Park.

At Cranberry Creek Marina, between Huron and Vermilion, the beach and surrounding shallow waters are not a pretty sight.

Is the smell bad? "It's going to be. I was out in a boat last night, and you can see freshwater drum with their tails up and heads down," said Chris Woods, vice president of sales at the marina.

Large numbers of dead fish also have been reported in Michigan's waters, including muskellunge in the Detroit River.

The last big fish kill in Ohio was about five years ago, when large numbers of carp washed ashore. Samples of those fish were sent for analysis, but the tests were inconclusive because the samples were too decomposed, Tyson said.

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