EDMONTON — Hundreds of dead fish have washed up on the shores of several Alberta lakes and a new aeration method is to blame.
Due to low oxygen levels in the water over the winter, hundreds – if not thousands – of fish have died. One of the lakes impacted is Millers Lake, about 25 kilometres west of Edson. (See full list below).
“It’s really, really a disaster right now,” said Al Hunter, an avid angler and owner of Ron’s Outdoor Source for Sports in Edson. “I’d be surprised if there’s a fish alive in the lake right now.”
Residents in the area said they noticed the dead fish floating on the surface of the lake when the ice melted earlier this spring.
“It’s in pretty bad shape. I was out about a week ago when the ice first came off and I probably saw anywhere from 200 to 500 floating. Dead as a doornail,” Hunter said.
“It’s devastating to the whole community,” Leslie Bannert added. “It’s just mismanagement as far as I’m concerned.”
For more than 20 years, Millers Lake has been stocked with trout. Hunter said about 12,000 are put in the water every spring. To keep the fish alive through the winter, oxygen is pumped into the lake.
Last fall, the government changed the way it aerates several lakes in Alberta, including Millers Lake. But the new system didn’t work, leading to the fish kills.
“This is certainly unfortunate and the department will now be taking steps to ensure that this doesn’t happen again,” Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said.
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The government can’t go back to doing things the old way, though. The previous method left a hole in the ice and last fall, the government learned it could be held liable if someone were to fall through the ice and drown.
Under a section of the Criminal Code, if a person were to fall in and die, the person or company that cut the hole could be found guilty of manslaughter.
Those who fish the lake, and those who rely on the anglers for business, are worried about what the next few years will hold.
“Without word of a lie, it’s taken between $30,000 and $50,000 a year of sales away from me because that’s what I would sell just for those individuals that would go to Millers Lake,” Hunter said.
“A lot of people will stay away from it for quite a while now because it’s dead, it’s winter-killed and they know it’s going to take about three years to get them (the fish) back to roughly the size we were catching.”
Because of the fish kills, fishing is not recommended on the following lakes:
Fiesta LakeMillers LakeMuir Lake
Other lakes experienced significant or partial winterkill. As a result, some fishing opportunities will be available this spring on the following lakes:
Beaver LakeMitchell LakeIronside Lake
East Dollar Lake is also expected to be impacted by a significant winterkill, but no formal assessment can be completed to quantify the loss.
There was also a significant drop in oxygen levels at Jackfish Lake, which has led to the lake becoming a catch-and-release site to protect the surviving fish.
All of the lakes will be restocked with trout but anglers shouldn’t expect to see any large fish in the lakes for several years.
The province said it is working to ensure the aeration program is fully operation by the winter of 2016/17.
With files from Kent Morrison, Global News.