Heat blamed for massive fish kill at Marion Reservoir

The fish kill that resulted in about 30,000 dead white bass at Marion Reservoir last week was the result of a freak combination of factors that were exacerbated by unrelenting high temeperatures, according to wildlife officials who investigated the incident.

Ken McCloskey, a fisheries biologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, said, “It was brought on primarily by the heat and crowded conditions-not an overpopulation of the fish necessarily, but a healthy density of that particular fish.”

He said prior to last week, Marion Reservoir had the highest white bass population density of any lake in the state-by far.

The latest rating had Marion Reservoir with an estimated white bass density of 80.3. The next highest rating was 53.5 at Kanapolis Lake.

No other lake in Kansas registered above 40.

The density of the white bass population, coupled with the heat, proved to be a terminal combination.

“You get them stressed, they start getting ecto-parasites that further stresses them, then you get low oxygen conditions that further stresses them-and pretty soon you have dying fish,” McCloskey said. “It’s just a build up of things.”

Terry Holt, lake manager, said the dead fish began appearing Monday, Aug. 21.

“We noticed large amounts of white bass washing up on shore, which caused us some alarm,” he said.

He said the fish apparently sank to the bottom of the lake when they died, then floated back to the top as they began to bloat. Winds then pushed the dead fish toward shore.

“Monday through Wednesday, we picked up nearly 10,000 pounds of white bass,” Holt said.

“We concentrated our efforts on our parks and public beach areas to help eliminate as much of the smell and the health hazard that might result from such a problem.”

The dead fish were hauled away and buried on park property.

Wildlife & Parks officials quickly ruled out the possibility of a chemical cause, since the kill was species specific.

“If it had been a chemical problem, we would have many other species of fish dying,” Holt said.

For Holt, a veteran of 24 years of park service, the sight of thousands of dead fish was overwhelming.

“I have not encountered anything like this in my career to this extent,” he said. “I have seen fish kills before, but this is a tragic and significant event, as far as white bass fishing goes.”

But McCloskey believes the loss of several thousand white bass may not be as noticeable as one might think, given the population density of the species.

Besides, white bass are not the biggest drawing card for area anglers.

“There probably are not as many white bass fishermen as there are walleye fishermen and crappie and cat fishermen,” he said. “People like white bass and they take them, but what we need is more fishermen.”

With the the population of white bass now thinned, the cycle of dying fish has ended for the time being, McCloskey said.

“I think what we’ve done is thinned the population to the point where we’re at carrying capacity under the present conditions at the reservoir,” he said.

“If the water further deteriorates and becomes warmer, you might see it happen again. But right now, it’s over with.”

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