Thousands of fish could be victims of harsh winter, DNR warns

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NEW AUBURN, Wis. (WEAU) - The final signs of winter are fading, but the impact of the frigid temperatures could affect area lakes for years to come. That's what the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is predicting for some lakes that lost oxygen, possibly killing thousands of fish.

Keith Huset likes to spend his summer days on the water, waiting to reel in a lunker. He's one of the few nestled in tall trees living on South Shattuck Lake near New Auburn.

“In the ‘70s and ‘80s, when I used to fish a lot, it was really good fishing here,” he said. “This little lake, it's only 72 acres, but years back there used to be 14, 15 boats here on a Saturday. But we had fish then. Now we don't have nothing.”

The fish of South Shattuck have bigger problems than lures, hooks or spears, and they're not alone.

“We get a freeze out every other year, it doesn't have a chance to come back,” Huset said.

“The ice was between two to two and a half feet thick, but then the early snow pack really puts a dent on it too because the light can't penetrate through the lake and the plants die. Then all the bacteria eats the plants and takes all the oxygen out of the lake. The combination of the ice and heavy snow pack is a double whammy on some of these smaller shallower lakes,” DNR fisheries biologist Heath Benike said.

With not enough oxygen to breathe, the DNR expects large fish kills on small northern Chippewa County lakes like South Shattuck, Townline, Horseshoe, Plummer and Knickerbocker, and to a lesser degree, Marshmiller, saying this only happens about once every ten years.

Biologists said full recoveries can take six or seven years, and Huset said he hopes a change will come soon.

“All the snow we had this year, the sun can't get through to keep the oxygen in the lake. So we need an aerator in here,” he said. “I haven't taken a fish out of this lake for probably five years. I hate to take a fish out because there's hardly anything left in it.”

The DNR is asking anyone who sees large numbers of dead fish in area lakes to contact them at 1-800-847-9367. Benike said he expects the DNR to stock suffering lakes with bass and bluegill in the next year.

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