LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Thousands of fish are dying in the Midwest as the hot,
dry summer dries up rivers and causes water temperatures to climb in some
spots to nearly 100 degrees.
About 40,000 shovelnose sturgeon were killed in Iowa last week as water
temperatures reached 97 degrees. Nebraska fishery officials said they’ve
seen thousands of dead sturgeon, catfish, carp, and other species in the
Lower Platte River, including the endangered pallid sturgeon. And biologists
in Illinois said the hot weather has killed tens of thousands of large- and
smallmouth bass and channel catfish and is threatening the population of the
greater redhorse fish, a state-endangered species.
So many fish died in one Illinois lake that the carcasses clogged an intake
screen near a power plant, lowering water levels to the point that the
station had to shut down one of its generators.
“It’s something I’ve never seen in my career, and I’ve been here for more
than 17 years,” said Mark Flammang, a fisheries biologist with the Iowa
Department of Natural Resources. “I think what we’re mainly dealing with
here are the extremely low flows and this unparalleled heat.”
The fish are victims of one of the driest and warmest summers in history.
The federal U.S. Drought Monitor shows nearly two-thirds of the lower 48
states are experiencing some form of drought, and the Department of
Agriculture has declared more than half of the nation’s counties — nearly
1,600 in 32 states — as natural disaster areas. More than 3,000 heat records
were broken over the last month.
Iowa DNR officials said the sturgeon found dead in the Des Moines River were
worth nearly $10 million, a high value based in part on their highly sought
eggs, which are used for caviar. The fish are valued at more than $110 a
Gavin Gibbons, a spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute, said the
sturgeon kills don’t appear to have reduced the supply enough to hurt
regional caviar suppliers.
Flammang said weekend rain improved some of Iowa’s rivers and lakes, but
temperatures were rising again and straining a sturgeon population that
develops health problems when water temperatures climb into the 80s.
“Those fish have been in these rivers for thousands of thousands of years,
and they’re accustomed to all sorts of weather conditions,” he said. “But
sometimes, you have conditions occur that are outside their realm of
In Illinois, heat and lack of rain has dried up a large swath of Aux Sable
Creek, the state’s largest habitat for the endangered greater redhorse, a
large bottom-feeding fish, said Dan Stephenson, a biologist with the
Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
“We’re talking hundreds of thousands (killed), maybe millions by now,”
Stephenson said. “If you’re only talking about game fish, it’s probably in
the thousands. But for all fish, it’s probably in the millions if you look
Stephenson said fish kills happen most summers in small private ponds and
streams, but the hot weather this year has made the situation much worse.
“This year has been really, really bad — disproportionately bad, compared to
our other years,” he said.
Stephenson said a large number of dead fish were sucked into an intake
screen near Powerton Lake in central Illinois, lowering water levels and
forcing a temporary shutdown at a nearby power plant. A spokesman for Edison
International, which runs the coal-fired plant, said workers shut down one
of its two generators for several hours two weeks ago because of extreme
heat and low water levels at the lake, which is used for cooling.
In Nebraska, a stretch of the Platte River from Kearney in the central part
of the state to Columbus in the east has gone dry and killed a “significant
number” of sturgeon, catfish and minnows, said fisheries program manager
Daryl Bauer. Bauer said the warm, shallow water has also killed an unknown
number of endangered pallid sturgeon.
Kansas also has seen declining water levels that pulled younger, smaller
game fish away from the vegetation-rich shore lines and forced them to
cluster, making them easier targets for predators, said fisheries chief Doug
Nygren of the Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
“These last two
years are the hottest we’ve ever seen,” Nygren said. “That really can play a
role in changing populations, shifting it in favor of some species over