Thousands of dead yellow perch have been washing up on central Lake Erie beaches from Lorain to Mentor and state fisheries authorities now believe that they have traced the cause to commercial trapnet fishing vessels.
Gary Isbell, executive administrator for fish research and management for the Ohio Division of Wildlife, said yesterday that initial concerns were that a suspect virus that killed tens of thousands of freshwater drum, or sheepshead, earlier this month in western Lake Erie may have been to blame.
But yesterday, he said, "We put Joe Barber [the division pilot] in the air and it's clear - they're from trapnets."
He described the kill as being "thousands and thousands of fish washing up from Lorain to Mentor. We're getting a lot of calls. There are fish on the beach.
"We collected some fish and sent them off for testing. But our observations are that the [dead perch] are associated with trapnets. The numbers of fish we're seeing seem to be larger than we would expect to see for these operations."
Ideally, trapnets are worked so that fish that swim inside the net enclosure are hauled up live. Then they can be sorted and those that are undersized or not a legal species can be returned to the lake alive. Ideally only a certain small percentage does not survive the stress and these fish are listed as "bycatch."
Ohio's commercial trapnetters are allowed to keep only perch that are at least 8 1/2 inches long. An investigation by the Ohio Division of Wildlife is under way.
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