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Brutally Cold Temps Make for More Winter Fish Kills

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The recent cold weather has been having a negative impact on smaller fish throughout the state. Multiple people have been calling the Missouri Department of Conservation to report dead fish sightings.
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The recent cold weather has been having a negative impact on smaller fish throughout the state.

Multiple people have been calling the Missouri Department of Conservation to report dead fish sightings.

Conservationists say these fish kills are strictly a result of cold weather and have nothing to do with water quality.

The ice and snow this winter have made it difficult for fish to survive.

"Every time the lake freezes, we see fish kills," says Fisheries Regional Supervisor Andy Austin.

With the bitterly cold temps we've seen this year, it's no wonder people across the show me state are calling the Missouri Department of Conservation to report the fish kill sightings.

"The winter fish kill is fairly common," says Austin.  "We are seeing more of it this year because we are having a more severe winter."

Winter fish kills have been spotted all over the state.

"The smaller the lake, the more prone it is to this kind of fish kill," says Austin.  "What's unusual this year is even the larger lakes are freezing over."

Fish kills have even been sighted in Truman and Table Rock Lakes, Lake of the Ozarks, Pomme De Terre and Stockton.

"Those larger lakes have more fish in them and more of these small fish," says Austin.  "And that's why we are seeing the big fish kills."

Austin says the fish are essentially suffocating.

"There's a lot of ice this winter on the lakes, which is not real common for Missouri," he says.  "And that reduces the amount of atmospheric oxygen that can get into the water and it kind of shuts the lake off.  It's like they're trying to breathe with a bag over their head.  They're not getting the oxygen they need."

The bitterly cold temperatures and frozen waters are hard enough on the fish, but add the snow on top of that, and it makes it that much harder for the fish to get any kind of oxygen.

"Snow makes it worse in that it covers the ice, blocking the sunlight from getting to microscopic plants that produce most oxygen in our lakes," says Austin.  "If it were a pollutant, you would see a broader size range of fishes and you'd see more different kinds of fish dying," Austin adds.  "What we are seeing mostly is shad and other small fish.  It's a natural process.  The fish are safe to eat and it generally doesn't negatively impact the fishery."

Austin says these winter fish kills shouldn't impact the fishing season much-- except for the fact that there may be a slight decline in growth rates for bass and other fish eating fish.  Since there will be fewer fish to eat, they may not grow as fast.

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