Recently, I was in Ohio on vacation and I snapped this photo while on a ferry ride between South Bass Island and the mainland. Every few meters during the trip I noticed dead fish floating near the surface.
Seeing so many dead fish is disconcerting to say the least and asked one of the deckhands on the ferry but he didn’t seem to know what I was talking about. Is it possible that he never noticed all these fish floating on the surface? Because of the busy nature of being on vacation, I nearly forgot the matter until I was looking over some my photos today. The fish appear to me to be Freshwater Drum (though I could very well be wrong), so I googled “lake erie dead fish” and started following links to see if there was any news on the issue. Apparently there is.
According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), there is a problem with not just fish but mudpuppies as well. I was in Ohio near South Bass Island, not the New York side of the lake, but it is all one big body of water. The article explains that fish die offs have a variety of causes, including temperature changes and diseases. One notable culprit, according to the article, is Type E botulism toxin, a poison produced by by Clostridium botulinum, which can be harmful to humans if infected fish are eaten. This bacterium has been problematic in the past in the Great Lakes, so it may be making a comeback.
It occurred to me also that there could be alien toxins or diseases being introduced from the bilges of ships that enter the Lake from outside via the canal systems that link Lake Erie to the Hudson River. It might also be that nitrogen from agricultural run-offs into the lake create algae blooms that, in turn, create anoxic zones in the lake where the fish simply choke to death then rise to the surface.
On a brighter note, but perhaps not for those who suffer from ophidiophobia, the Lake Erie Water Snake population seems to be increased enough that the snake may soon be removed from the endangered list. This nonvenomous snake was placed on the endangered list in 1991 after nearly being eradicated by people who mistook it for poisonous. Though it isn’t poisonous, they’re certainly willing to bite when handled and they have an anticoagulant that makes the tiny wound continue to bleed for a while, appearing as if you opened up an artery.
I shot this picture at the ferry dock when my daughter noticed it sunning on the rock. They’re most commonly seen in the spring and further investigation revealed several dozen more of his friends, also hanging out on the rocks. Most of them tangled in knots of six or seven.
If anyone has information regarding the dead fish in Lake Erie or links, please share. I’m definitely not an expert on the subject and only admit to having a few thoughts and questions on the subject, not answers.