Fried About Fish

BEMUS POINT – The Department of Environmental Conservation has a solution for those sick of dead fish on Chautauqua Lake’s shores – take them to the landfill.

Hundreds of dead fish have washed up on the shores since Friday. For those who want to get rid of them before the smell permeates the air, Scott Cornett, fishery biologist for the DEC, suggests burying the fish or bringing them to the landfill.

“They can certainly clean them up, dispose of them, bury them – burying is probably the best thing to do. Take them to a landfill,” he said. “The birds, gulls and things like that will clean them up fairly quickly, but if they are worried about them right away – bury.”

Dick Sparling, owner of Shore Acres Boat Yard in Bemus Point, said it would be difficult to pick up all the fish.

“They are just going to sit there. They aren’t going to go anywhere the way they are packed up in the head of the creek by the road,” said Sparling, who has found hundreds of dead fish near his property. “… Maybe what we can do is at times the sheriff uses certain prisoners to do things up at the landfill. Maybe detail half a dozen of those guys to get brought down here and let them go to work on it.”

Debbie Loomis, a lakefront resident of Bemus Point, said she is looking to see what people in other areas do about dead fish washing up on their shores.

“They were saying if anybody needed any compost, come get our fish. I don’t know how many people will want to cart that away in their car,” she said. “I guess it depends on how fast they decay. … It might be a good idea (for Mother Nature to take its course) because obviously the birds were affected by this long, harsh weather. I guess they can fill up down by the lake.”

Vince Horrigan, county executive, said the county will be watching to see if the problem becomes significant. If there is a large enough demand, a plan to look at creating a special area in the landfill for the fish will be announced. Currently the county is following the DEC’s lead.

Cornett said the fish on the shore are mostly white perch, one of the most abundant fish in the lake. There were also documentations of other species of dead fish as well. This suggests the mass fish deaths were not caused by disease, according to Cornett. The fish have all been dead for a while, and the DEC needs a live fish to test for diseases.

“The most likely thing (that killed the fish) is just the hard winter and the extended ice cover,” Cornett said. “What happens in winter like that is the oxygen in the water gets used up by fish and by decaying plant material. The water breaks down and uses up oxygen, and if the ice is covering the lake, it can’t get oxygen back out of the air into the water. If that oxygen gets used up, particularly in shallow bays, quite often you get fish killed.”

He also said while it may look like a lot of fish – especially with the wind blowing them to one side of the lake – the lake is very large. It looks bad, but there are a lot of fish in the lake, especially the white perch, which can have thousands die and not make a significant dent in their population, Cornett said.