Share

In Nevada, the Mystery of 100,000 Dead Fish

Scott Sauner
Published: January 16, 2014

In this Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2014 photo, a dead cat fish lies on the east shore of the Sparks Marina in Sparks, Nev. (AP Photo)

SPARKS, Nev. — An estimated 100,000 trout, bass and catfish have died over the past month in a Sparks Marina and state wildlife officials are trying to figure out why.

The stocked fishery had flourished since the man-made lake was created nearly 15 years ago. The sudden die-off is apparently the result of a dramatic, unexplained drop in dissolved oxygen levels, Nevada Department of Wildlife spokesman Chris Healy said Wednesday.

Scientists say a bitter cold snap could have caused oxygen-poor waters to rise from the old rock quarry's bottom to the surface, but they don't understand what sparked the massive die-off.

Fish biologists confirmed low oxygen levels caused the death of an estimated 3,000 fish in one corner of the lake in mid-December, but Healy said they thought at the time that the event was localized and of limited impact. Since then, they've been unable to detect any live fish in the 77-acre lake. Numerous dead fish have been removed from the lake's shoreline, and Healy said it's likely the rest sank to the bottom.

"The 100,000 dead fish figure is something that is probably a pretty conservative guess," said Healy, who estimates they've stocked close to 1 million adult fish in the lake since they started in 1998.

"We don't know if any small fish have survived, but for all intents and purposes, the fishery doesn't exist anymore," he told The Associated Press.

The Reno Gazette-Journal first reported scientists determined the problem was much more serious than they realized after a boat survey on Monday found dissolved oxygen levels far too low to support the fish at 11 different sampling locations. Readings from an electronic fish-finder also revealed no fish swimming in the lake's depths.

Lakes like the marina consist of different layers of water temperatures, with the warmest water on top holding the highest oxygen content, Healy said. He said one theory is that the surface water may have chilled very quickly, sank toward the bottom of the lake and stirred up material on its floor, causing a "violent turnover" that could have sucked up additional oxygen.

"Everything is a theory right now," Healy said.

Joggers and dog-walkers make their way around the Sparks Marina, Wednesday Jan. 15, 2014 in Sparks, Nev. (AP Photo)

Sparks city spokesman Adam Mayberry emphasized there's no health or safety threat at the marina. He said the water typically is of good quality and no similar problems have occurred before.

"Even with the biological anomaly we are seeing, it's still a very safe body of water," he said. "You just can't fish in the marina right now because there aren't any fish there, and we are trying to figure out why."

The Sparks Marina opened in 2000, with a 2-mile walking and bike trail, beaches, playgrounds, picnic areas and a fishing pier. The former aggregate pit operated by Helms Construction Co. had been found to be contaminated in 1988 by pollutants leaking from an adjacent tank farm, but state environmental officials said all the pollution had been cleaned up before a 1997 New Year's Day flood sent Truckee River waters into the pit.

Michael Drinkwater, manager of the Truckee Meadows Wastewater Reclamation Facility which collects water from the lake, is awaiting results of new toxicity tests conducted last week but said routine testing has revealed no problems before. He told the Gazette-Journal there's no obvious indication hydrocarbon pollution could be associated with the die-off.

Healy said testing earlier this week found dissolved oxygen levels in the range of 1.1 to 1.9 parts per million. Fish do best with levels in the range of 7 to 9 parts per million and typically can't survive when it drops below 5 parts per million, he said.

The department annually stocks the marina in late February or early March 1, but he said they won't be doing that this year unless the dissolved oxygen level "makes a big recovery."

MORE: Spectacular Close-Ups of Starfish and Coral

Russian photographer Alexander Semenov captures a close-up image of an unidentified starfish. (Alexander Semenov)


Featured Blogs

Blizzard of 2015 Brings 2 - 3' of Snow and Questions About Forecast Accuracy

By Dr. Jeff Masters
January 28, 2015

The snows from the Blizzard of 2015 have finally ended over most of New England, leaving some truly historic snowfall totals. The biggest snows hit Central Massachusetts, with three feet measured at Auburn, Hudson, and Lunenburg. More than two feet of snow fell across five other states, with 33.2" at Nashua, NH; 30" at Orient, NY; 28.5" at Burrillville, RI; 31.5" at Sanford, ME; and 34.1" at Winthrop, CT.

Live Blog: Updates on Historic Northeast Blizzard

By Shaun Tanner
January 26, 2015

An historic blizzard is heading through the northeastern United States, potentially bringing more than 2 feet of snow to some areas. Visit this live blog often for the latest updates on storm totals and breaking news.

The RRR ‘Ridiculously Resilient Ridge’ Returns to California

By Christopher C. Burt
January 9, 2015

After a very wet first half of December hopes were high that the beginning to the end of California’s years-long drought might finally be at hand. However, virtually no rainfall has fallen across the state since December 18th and none is forecast until at least January 18th. Yet again, a month-long mid-winter dry spell has befallen the state.

Meteorological images of the year - 2014

By Stu Ostro
December 30, 2014

My 9th annual edition.

2013-14 - An Interesting Winter From A to Z

By Tom Niziol
May 15, 2014

It was a very interesting winter across a good part of the nation from the Rockies through the Plains to the Northeast. Let's break down the most significant winter storms on a month by month basis.

What the 5th IPCC Assessment Doesn't Include

By Angela Fritz
September 27, 2013

Melting permafrost has the potential to release an additional 1.5 trillion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, and could increase our global average temperature by 1.5°F in addition to our day-to-day human emissions. However, this effect is not included in the IPCC report issued Friday morning, which means the estimates of how Earth's climate will change are likely on the conservative side.