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Test netting in ND reveals up to two-thirds fish kill

Dead rough fish line the shores Monday, April 22, at Pipestem Reservoir.

JAMESTOWN, N.D. -- Early testing at Pipestem Reservoir near Jamestown is producing a mixed bag of results as officials attempt to quantify the fish kill over the winter, according to B.J. Kratz, southeast North Dakota fisheries supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

“The good news is it’s not a total kill,” he said. “The bad news is we didn’t catch any walleye.”

Nets left in Pipestem Reservoir for three days last week resulted in catching a mix of live crappie, perch and northerns but no walleye, one of the more popular game fish, Kratz said.

“What we got would be comparable to having the nets out for one day,” he said. “We would have expected to see three times what we caught in a normal year.”

The long winter and excessive snow on the lakes in the area caused reductions in oxygen in the water, which is necessary for fish to survive.

James Dixon, manager of Pipestem Dam for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said walking along the south shoreline of the reservoir reveals a lot of dead fish.

“From any point on the shore you can probably see 50 fish,” he said. “Haven’t seen a lot of game fish, mostly carp.”

The ice is out on Pipestem Reservoir but Jamestown Reservoir still holds “a decent amount of ice,” Dixon said.

That ice has prevented similar netting operations there, although those conditions are expected to change as warm weather and winds continue.

The dead fish become more noticeable as the ice leaves the lakes in the area, Kratz said. Most of the fish would accumulate on the sides of the lake opposite the prevailing winds.

“We have seen dead fish from a lot of different species, including bullhead,” Kratz said. “That’s not good; bullhead are about the last species to succumb to low oxygen levels.”

Dixon said it was undecided if the dead fish would be cleared away or left to nature. No efforts were made to clear dead fish after a 2013 fish kill.

Kratz said fish are adaptable and total winter kills are rare, although partial to even severe winter kills occur. There are no discussions of changing fishing regulations on the lakes affected by winter kill at this time.

“Winter kills are not a new thing to North Dakota,” he said.