Nature’s Course

BEMUS POINT – Nature has begun to take its course as the hundreds of dead fish along the Chautauqua Lake shoreline begin to disappear.

Last week, hundreds of white perch had washed up on the shores of the lake at Bemus Point. Scott Cornett, fishery biologist for the Department of Environmental Conservation, said the mass fish deaths were not caused by disease. He said the fish had been dead for a while.

“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.

For those worried about the mass amounts of dead fish on their land and the smell which will accompany them as the warmer weather comes along, Cornett suggested burying the fish or bringing them to a 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.”

Vince Horrigan, Chautauqua 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. However, he said he has not heard any further complaints from residents or anything new of significance. While he will continue to keep an ear out on public wants and needs, he said the county will continue to let nature take its course.