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DNR to begin assessing lakes

The ice cover on Foot Lake in Willmar was retreating from shore on Friday. The Spicer fisheries crew will begin assessing some of the shallow lakes in the region this coming week for possible fish kill. Foot Lake is aerated during the winter to prevent fish kills from oxygen depletion. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

SPICER -- We'll soon be learning whether some area lakes suffered winter fish kills.

Fisheries workers with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Spicer will begin assessing some of the shallow lakes in the region this week.

There are 10, possibly a dozen lakes that they intend to assess at some point this spring, said Dave Coahran, acting fisheries supervisor.

Area lakes were under a heavy blanket of snow for an extended period of time this winter. The lack of sunlight and heavy ice cover created conditions favorable for the depletion of oxygen and consequent loss of fish in shallow lakes.

Coahran said there is usually no way to know if fish kills occurred while the lakes are ice-covered. The crew will be placing nets in the lakes to conduct their assessments as soon as they can.

The assessment work will likely be interrupted. Once the ice goes out on Rice and Koronis Lakes, the crew members immediately begin collecting walleye spawn for the New London hatchery.

It's important for the crew to determine where fish kills occurred so that they can be re-stocked in a timely fashion.

The assessment helps determine the quantity of walleye fry and or fingerlings to stock in lakes where walleye fishing is enjoyed. The crew will also stock pre-spawn crappies, largemouth bass and sunfish in appropriate lakes to speed up their recovery.

In some lakes, the re-stocking and reduction of some rough fish species as a result of winter kill can actually lead to an improved fishery, noted Coahran.

The first lakes to be checked will be those in the southernmost portion of the area served by the Spicer fisheries crew. Three lakes south of Granite Falls -- Wood Lake, School Grove and Tyson -- will likely be the first. Two other lakes in that area -- Cottonwood and Lady Slipper -- will also be checked at some point.

A commercial fishing crew netted carp and rough fish in Wood Lake during the winter, and reported seeing dead walleyes on the lake's bottom. They also reported seeing live walleyes and crappies as well, so there's reason to hope that only a partial kill occurred, he noted.

Ella, Middle Lake, Point and Tad are among the Kandiyohi County lakes on the list to be assessed. There have been some reports of dead fish at lake outlets, but not in large numbers.

Coahran is optimistic that winter kill won't be as bad as the harsh winter has many fearing. The worst fish kills are usually experienced in drought years and during winters where the oxygen depletion occurred rapidly. This year saw high water levels, and periodic checks by the fisheries staff showed that oxygen levels decreased at a slow pace.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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