“It's Kind of Disgusting”: Dead Fish Washing Ashore at Lake Champlain

Vermont has once again seen large numbers of dead fish washing up on the shores of Lake Champlain. In recent years, dead alewives have shown up on shorelines after the ice has gone out on Lake Champlain.

"I think it's kind of disgusting," said Vanessa Fleming, a resident of Milton, Vermont who enjoys visiting Lake Champlain. "It makes you feel discouraged coming down here and seeing dead fish everywhere."

Unhealthy water or pollution is not to blame, said Shawn Good of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, who said the biology of the fish is behind their mortality.

Good explained that alewives are an invasive species that is not native to Lake Champlain. One guess as to how they got here is someone brought alewives to Lake Champlain years ago to use as bait, but their population exploded.

Many alewives simply aren’t equipped to handle the fluctuations in temperatures Lake Champlain sees in the colder months, Good said. "It kinds of leaves a void in the fish community in terms of other fish having something to eat," he said of the alewives’ deaths.

Good called the alewife die-offs in recent years a "warning sign" and a reminder that people should never transport live fish between bodies of water. In addition to being illegal, human-aided movement of live fish can have significant impacts on ecosystems, Good said.

Salmon and trout living in Lake Champlain have come to rely on the invaders as a significant source of food, Good noted. So if the alewives were to keep dying off in huge numbers, that could leave salmon and trout with a harder time finding food, which in turn, could impact recreational fishing.

"We haven’t seen that here," Good told New England Cable News. "It's just something we have witnessed in the Great Lakes, and we hope it doesn't happen here."

Tuesday, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department was in Milton stocking Lake Champlain with young salmon, as part of an ongoing project to restore fish populations in the lake and support Vermont’s long tradition of outdoor recreation.

For more on Vermont’s managed fish habitats, visit this website of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department: http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com/fisheries_info.cfm 

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