Posted at: 01/24/2014 5:35 PM
By: John Doetkott
(ABC 6 News) -- This winter has been hard on all of us out here on the frozen plains, but it's also been especially hard on those living beneath the ice.
Inside ice houses on Pickerel Lake in Albert Lea, dozens of fish have been gathering at the fishing holes, fighting for air.
"We have a lake that's only five feet deep, and with two feet of ice, it only leaves three feet of water for the fish,” said Jerad Stricker, a technician with the Shell Rock River Watershed District. “So we're getting really low dissolved oxygen readings this year."
Water levels were already low when the lakes froze over, and experts said that with no open water, and no sunlight to feed the lake's plant life, oxygen levels are only going down.
"A year like this is kind of a perfect storm for winter kills,” said James Fett, a technician with the Cedar River Watershed District who also fishes on Pickerel Lake. “We had an early freeze up, so that wave action stops and we got snow early in the year."
Fett was out on Pickerel Lake on Monday, and said he saw the effects of the cold firsthand.
"I've never seen all these little fish come up like that,” Fett said. “We saw a lot of fish...that were kind of swimming up toward the surface of the lake and gulping for air or dying.”
And unfortunately there's very little that can be done.
"We actually applied for an aeration system on Pickerel Lake, [but the] DNR declined that request,” Stricker said. “In some cases aeration systems can do more harm than good and I think that's the DNR’s stance."
"Worst case scenario, we could potentially completely kill and we'd just have to start over from the beginning,” Fett said. “Hopefully the DNR would restock the lake."
Officials said the only bright spot is that fish tend to grow quite quickly in Southern Minnesota, meaning once the lakes are restocked, fish populations could be back to normal in just two to three years.