Friday, Mar 24, 2017
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Dying walleye only a small part of fish population

PORT CLINTON, Ohio — Reports are coming in from around Lake Erie about large numbers of dead walleye washing up on shore, but experts say it’s probably just the result of an extra-stressful spawning season.

John Hageman, manager of Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory near Put-in-Bay, said temperature fluctuations, rough waters, and muddy conditions that make feeding more difficult are all likely culprits that have led to a larger-than-usual spring fish kill.

“In the big picture, it’s not anything to lose any sleep over, but it is noticeable,” Mr. Hageman said.

No careful census has been taken, but Mr. Hageman guesses the walleye deaths are in the thousands, perhaps 10,000, though he doubted the number would exceed 20,000. For a lake stocked with an estimated 22 million walleye going into this fishing season, that represents a miniscule sliver of the total population.

Also, it’s likely that fishermen have taken fewer walleye so far this year.

Jason McCann, a charter boat captain with Legacy Charters in Port Clinton, guessed April’s catch might have been as low as 5 percent of what’s normal. Out of 17 scheduled charters last month, Mr. McCann was only able to go out with four. He suspected the rough weather that kept fishermen off the water may also have taken a toll on the fish. Still, he said the number of dead fish wasn’t alarming.

“There’s more this year than most years, but I’ve seen it like this before. I’m third generation, I’ve been out here 18 years,” Mr. McCann said.

Mr. Hageman said researchers have taken samples from the dead fish to test for viruses, but the dead fish he has seen are not outwardly showing signs of the viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus that contributed to large fish kills in recent years. He also said all the reports he’s seen have been of mature fish that would have been spawning.

Mr. Hageman said the die-off appears to have peaked and is now declining.

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