By Mike Augustyniak

MINNETONKA, Minn. (WCCO) — If you’ve been near a lake lately, you may have seen — or smelled — dead fish washing up on shore.

It’s called a fish kill, and a lot of people have been talking about it lately.

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“Fish are in close proximity to each other, they’re spawning, they’re stressed out due to spawning,” said DNR fishery supervisor T.J. DeBates.

And who can’t relate to that? The trials of young love!

DeBates says the stress-induced fish kills they’re seeing statewide are not unusual.

“It’s seasonal, it happens in the spring — late spring, early summer,” DeBates said. “As water temps are increasing, and it’s really nothing to worry about.”

A naturally occurring bacteria called columnaris does the fish in.

While fish kills might be surprising to see, they can be a benefit to the ecosystem, DeBates said.

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“It kinda weeds out the weaker individuals, and so then only the strong survive,” he said. “That means there’s more food for the remaining fish to grow.”

A bill introduced at the Legislative session this year would have required the public to report kills of over 100 fish within four hours. Even though it didn’t become a law, the DNR would still like to hear from you if you see an unusual fish kill.

“I’d say you start getting into the thousands of fish, maybe give us a call, but generally if you see bluegills and crappies, 99 percent of the time it’s going to be columnairis,” DeBates said. “But if you have different species involved — like Northern pike, maybe bass, maybe walleye — then give us a call.”

So, as far as the smaller fish kills are concerned, consider them high-quality fertilizer.

“I mean, whether you’re putting ’em on the garden or leaving them in the lake, if they decompose they release those nutrients back into the system,” DeBates said.

If you want to report a fish kill, call the DNR office near you.

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If it’s after hours, you can call 911 and ask the dispatcher for the State Duty Officer, who will pass the information along.

Mike Augustyniak