Ice, snow cover dropping oxygen levels for fish on area lakes

Published 8:56 am Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fish are in jeopardy on several of Albert Lea’s lakes because of low oxygen levels caused by thick ice and abundant snowfall this year.

The lakes iced up earlier than the past several years and have experienced below-normal temperatures, causing ice thicknesses not normally seen until late February, according to a news release from the Shell Rock River Watershed District.

Conservation technician Jerad Stricker, who monitored Albert Lea, Fountain and Pickerel lakes at least weekly, said the district has contacted the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and is waiting on a reply.

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“We’re going to be paying close attention,” Stricker said.

He said on Pickerel Lake, all of the game fish are at risk; so far on Albert Lea Lake, walleye and catfish have started dieing.

The first evidence of the low oxygen levels was reported on Jan. 10 when carp and buffalo stacked up in the channel below the Fountain Lake dam, the release stated.

Pictures of the fish crowded near the open water flooded social media pages.

The release stated Freeborn County and Watershed District staff have installed both aeration systems on Albert Lea Lake — which open up holes in the ice to get oxygen to the surface water — but even with those aeration systems, fish are already dieing.

The release stated there have been reports of fish coming to the surface of open water on Pickerel Lake gasping for air.

Watershed district staff applied for an aeration permit from the DNR for this lake in 2011 but was denied. At that time, DNR officials stated that aeration could actually be a detriment to Pickerel Lake, noting that aeration might keep the rough fish — like carp — alive after all the game fish have died.

To salvage fish that may likely die, the DNR may open lakes to liberalized fishing but as of Wednesday morning had not yet done so.

When this happens, signs will be posted and notices will be printed. Anglers may take any quantity of fish for personal use by spearing, gill-netting or angling.

In the meantime, Stricker said people are allowed to spear for rough fish, but are not allowed to spear or net even freshly dead game fish.

He said the district officials will notify the public upon word from the DNR.