Monday, August 18, 2008

Belly Up

Skating at Shelby Farms recently has been quite pleasant. The weather has cooled off some, kids are back in school, and the sunsets have been really gorgeous. Everything has been pretty perfect ...

Until last night.

There we were, skating around the first south of Patriot Lake turn when it hit us. A noxious cloud of stink, worse than anything I have ever smelled. Like dead fish times 1,000.

Now, sometimes there are ... smells ... at Shelby Farms. Usually they're localized and you just identify them and try to get out of the area as fast as possible.

But this was a foul wind on the entire south side of Patriot Lake.

Walkers were pulling their t-shirt collars over their noses. Children were crying. Dogs were covering their noses with their paws.

After our third or fourth lap, I made the mistake of looking at the lake's sandy shore and it was blanketed with dead fish. All the way down. Just one after another, lined up like you'd see at a fish market. But not. Definitely not.

Obv. not Shelby Farms. I didn't have a camera with me.

More dead fish were floating belly up in the lake.

In March, Patriot Lake saw a similar occurrence. Gizzard shad, a fish sometimes used by fisherman for bait, began dying off. Robert Mayer, the director of park operations, says he's not sure how gizzard shad, generally found in streams and rivers, were introduced into Patriot Lake, but the fish eggs could also have been carried into the water by birds.

The U of M Ecological Research Center's Bill Simco investigated the March kill and told the park that cloudy weather had reduced the oxygen levels in the lake, making it inhospitable for gizzard shad.

The park has called Simco to test water quality again, just in case, but because the dead fish are once again gizzard shad, they suspect lower oxygen levels as the culprit.

"We don't think we have any cause for alarm," says Mayer. "This is just a natural occurrence."

The real bad news is for park rangers.

"The rangers have to put on their waders, get out in the water and scoop out the fish," says communications manager Jen Andrews. "We have to get them out somehow."

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