Big Fish Kill
More than 92,000
during long, hard winter under
Lake Scugog ice shroud
was a sight that veteran conservation officer Ben
Smith will never forget. When he looked across Lake
Scugog, just two km. from his Prince Albert home,
he saw thousands of dead fish floating on the surface
of the lake.
"We took things in our stride," Ben recalled,
but seeing all those dead fish has to rate as the
biggest shock that I had in my 26 years as a conservation
officer for the Ministry of Natural Resources.
The date was April 22, 1960, the day after the
lake ice had melted. The first Ben heard of the
fish massacre was an anguished phone call for a
native trapper. He hurried down to the lake, pushed
his cedar strip boat through clumps of remnant ice
and made for the deepest water where the concentration
of dead fish was the heaviest.
"The wind was drifting them in to shore"
says Ben. "Many of the carp had rotted but
the bass looked good enough to eat." Belly-up
in the frigid water were huge muskellunge, some
of them 23 kg. or more; carp, smallmouth bass and
perch. Ben theorized they were all victims of chronic
lack of oxygen.
From dawn till dusk for the next 14 days, Ben puttered
about the 35-km. lake totting up the dead fish with
a push-button counter. Over a 7.8-km square area
he recorded more than 92,000 dead fish. But there
were survivors. Ben swept nets across the deepest
stretch of the shallow man made lake and found 28
lively muskie and thousands of catfish, a species
capable of surviving with a low oxygen level.
As for the dead ones, they disappeared in no time
and the lake was heavily restocked with bass and
muskellunge that spring.
Ben figures that three ice storms, so packed and
insulated the snow and ice, that the fish progressively
exhausted the underwater air supply before the April
21 thaw. "There are usually cracks in the ice,
but there weren't any that year," he said.
The spring thaw of 1960 also a vivid memory for
many residents who call Scugog their home, as it
was the same year the heavy buildup of ice and snow
caused the Port Perry and Cartwright Causeways to
remain flooded for almost eight weeks.
Article reproduced from the March/April
1982 issue of Aski magazine, published by the Ontario
Ministry of Natural Resources.
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