Shad die-off seen in Lake Erie fish

Posted on May 1, 2013

Jane BeathardLingering cold weather across northern Ohio is behind a gizzard shad die-off in the Central Basin of Lake Erie, according to Kevin Kayle of the Ohio DNR's Fairport Harbor Fish Research Station.

Millions of the dead forage fish began washing up on the shoreline between the Cuyahoga River and Ashtabula as soon as lake ice melted in March. The die-off continued into late April.

Kayle said rumors of a pollution-based fish kill are unfounded.

"It's thermal-stress related," Kayle said. "Gizzard shad are not equipped to stand cold."

Lake Erie is about as far north as the fish range.

A check of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration's website showed water temperatures in the Central Basin ran 10-15 degrees colder in April than at the same time in previous years.

Gizzard shad play a key role in the lake's food chain.

"Large predatory fish like walleye, bass, and steelhead eat gizzard shad," Kayle said.

Anglers need not fear the spring die-off will impact lake populations of those popular sport fish. Survivors will quickly re-populate.

"There are plenty of (gizzard shad) still out there," Kayle said.

He estimated live gizzard shad continue to outnumber dead ones 50 to 1 in the lake.

"We won't miss the dead ones," Kayle said.