The Fish Kill at Wehrspann Lake (Omaha, Nebraska)

Hello, Blog Readers! 

It has been quite a while, hasn't it? Anyways...

My thoughts today go to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for doing one of the most atrocious things that I have seen in the fishing media recently: an entire induced Rotenone fish kill in Wehrspann Lake, Omaha, Nebraska. And to emphasize: not to kill an invasive Species of fish, but to kill your regular Gizzard Shad (Dorosoma cepedianum). 

Please read the original article here to get their point of view on this story. If you read the entire article, you already know what we are dealing with here: a governmental agency that believes that it did the right thing for the environment. But did they really evaluate all of their options?

Hundreds of dead Gizzard Shad on the shores of Wehrspann Lake, Omaha, Nebraska. Photo Credit: Dylan Patterson

The main question here is: "is poisoning our watersheds really the most plausible solution available to us when it comes to eradicating certain Species of fish?" Apparently, Nebraska thinks so. The Nebraska Game & Parks points out that rotenone treatments have worked well for them in the past. They continue their argument by giving an example of a past rotenone induced kill for the Goldfish Species (Carassius auratus) -- an invasive type of fish in the state of Nebraska. Thus, due to the success of their past poisonings, they truly believe that Wehrspann Lake will once again flourish in the long term future.  

Now, here is a fact for all folks out there. Sadly, when it comes to applying rotenone to a certain watershed, results truly vary from environment to environment. Fishery Biologists and Ichthyologists can only predict, but even the best predictions still result in uncertainties. The reason for that is simple: when it comes to the science of poisoning a specific area, there are too many dependent variables involved. For example: the size of the watershed, the total number of biomass, etc. So, as one can see, the damage of chemical agents such as the rotenone is truly unpredictable. 

As a matter of fact, rotenone worked a little bit too well in Wehrspann Lake. Not only the populations of Gizzard Shad were reduced, other fish Species suffered as well. In the end, bigger game-fish started to eat poisoned Gizzard Shad, dying in the process. That included good sized Blue Catfish (Ictalurus furcatus), Walleye (Sander vitreus), as well as Black Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus), Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus), Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides), among other Species. But worry not, fellas -- according to the NE G&P Commission, that was all within their calculations. In other words, "a small sacrifice for a greater good."

A beautiful Walleye, dead due to the consumption of poisoned Gizzard Shad. Photo Credit: Dylan Patterson

This is a type of mistake that society has been doing for a long time: to not fix the problem at its root. And it is time to stop. 

To exemplify, take the Crofton Pond incident in Maryland, back in 2002. That was when the Northern Snakehead (Channa argus) fever truly began in the United States of America. Governmental agencies were terrified of this new Species of fish that made its way all the way from Asia. Mass hysteria surfaced among local communities, and then, spread to a national level. According to the government, their propagation had to be interrupted; therefore, their extermination was imminent.

A typical Northern Snakehead -- an invasive Species of fish in the United States of America 

To eradicate the Northern Snakeheads from the face of Maryland, the local Game Commission decided to poison the whole Crofton Pond with rotenone to kill them. Did they die? Absolutely not. It was quite ironic, as a matter of fact. Every other Species in the Pond died, with the exception of Snakeheads. Ultimately, they had to dredge the Pond to kill the Northern Snakeheads, killing the entire local ecosystem as well. Another "small sacrifice for the greater good."

Was that the solution? Northern Snakeheads were indeed eradicated from Crofton Pond, among everything else. However, the mass hysteria did not cease. And anglers didn't learn. In other words, people still illegally introduced the Northern Snakehead to their local watersheds and people still feared this Species of fish. A little bit more than a decade later, it is known that this Species of fish has propagated to open bodies of water, meaning that they will never be entirely eradicated within the United States of America now. They can be found in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington D.C., among other states as well.

Another example is Newton Lake in New Jersey -- one of the many lakes that get an annual dose of Captain algaecide. Comes the summer of every year, the green layer of algae can be seen throughout the entire watershed. The government solution? Apply the algaecide and kill it all. Year after year, the local government agency has spent thousands of dollars to control the algae population in numerous ponds and lakes in New Jersey, with little to no avail. Year by year, the problem seemed to worsen.    

Newton Lake during Summer of 2012

My question for all those governmental agencies is: "Where is the greater good?" Instead of educating a whole generation of anglers on the consequences of releasing invasive Species of fish, they go and kill entire ecosystems. Instead of educating society on how to avoid using chemicals on their lawns that produce algae blooms or flushing down liquids through their toilets, they go and waste thousands of tax payer dollars on temporary solutions that don't work. Similarly, with Wehrspann Lake, instead of using methods that would spare other Species of fish and target the Gizzard Shad specifically, they go and consciously waste precious resources that we -- anglers -- could all have used.    

Ultimately, poisoning watersheds is never the ultimate solution to a problem.

So, what exactly could the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission have done instead of applying the rotenone agent in the Wehrspann Lake? Well, here are just some of the ideas...

1. Use an extensive netting system to reduce the population of Gizzard Shad from the Lake. It is well known among anglers out there that Gizzard Shad can be caught in nets. As a matter of fact, many Catfish charters and guides in the market know that nothing beats a good cut fresh Shad for trophy Catfish. Therefore, during the mornings, they tend to net their bait first -- a single man operation. If they are able to do that and catch a few Shad as bait, the Game and Parks Commission could have hired people to do some major netting in the Lake, targeting specifically the Shad. No other Species would have died in the process. Netting is a lengthy and time consuming process with no major side effects, and yet it was completely disregarded as an option.

2. Stock the watershed with "numbers" of predatory Species to thin out bait fish. An expensive way (note on the expensive) of getting rid of huge populations of baitfish within a watershed is to stock the same with bigger fish -- predatory fish -- that will eventually eat out smaller Species of fish. In this case, the Gizzard Shad. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission could have stocked some extra Largemouth Bass or Walleye into the Lake and just let the time pass, constantly checking on the population number of Gizzard Shad. This would be a very expensive and extensive program, since fish stockings require a lot of money. However, again -- no other resources would have been wasted.

3. Nothing. That is correct, folks. Another option for the NE G&P was to do absolutely nothing. Nature just functions properly without the interference of human folks. A huge population of a certain Species of fish usually ends with stunted populations, since food supply is on demand. After the spawning of each year, more fish die due to starvation. Those that survive become stunted, which then become prey for bigger Species of fish. 

So, why didn't they do any of these three? These next paragraphs are only an assumption (subjective), of course. So, you may draw your own conclusions from it. Personally, I believe that they didn't do option (1) and (2) because they didn't want to spend too much money and time in the eradication of Gizzard Shad. In other words, they went with the most efficient, but also the most destructive method to save cash and save time. Therefore, the excuse of "small sacrifice for a greater good." As for option (3), they clearly did something because they wanted the ecosystem to change. It seems to me that they really wanted to favor the populations of Largemouth Bass in the Lake, according to their own writings and responses on social media. That is exactly why they didn't care much about the death of Catfish and Walleye in the Lake, which are two sought after game-fishes in the country. Sadly, option (3) has more to do with local fishing culture; after all, the Bass angling is a fever in the United States of America. 

Anyways...what is done is done. The damage is already here and the rotenone is already in the water. Personally, I think that even with the poisoning, the NE G&P could have done a better job. They could have asked us for our advice instead of keeping the project in secrecy. They could have introduced slot limits for each Species of fish and encouraged anglers to catch and take, since many of them would die anyways. They could have hired people to fish and transport more fishes from Wehrspann Lake to another Lake, instead of just salvaging a mere 170 adult Walleyes. And so on.

Let this event at Wehrspann Lake be a wide example to other government agencies across the country, so that this mistake is not repeated. And finally, let it be understood that although poisoning a watershed is an effective way of killing a certain target organism, there exists other options out there with less side effects.

Now, this below is just my personal rant...

From a Multi-Species angler's and sportsman's perspective, this whole rotenone poisoning at Wehrspann Lake was a waste of money and resources. The goals of eradicating the Gizzard Shad for the sustenance of certain targeted Species of fish make it a disrespectful and selfish act towards those who enjoy catching different Species of fish. Let me remind all government agencies out there that we -- the anglers and sportsmen of this country -- are the ones who support the overall sport of fishing. We fish legally by supporting our state and purchasing a fishing license. We support the fishing market with our fishing gear and our fishing trips. Therefore, we would also appreciate if government agencies enlightened us with their projects and plans before doing so. This is not only for Nebraska, but for every state out there. 

If frustrates me when I see this kind of stuff on the media, mainly because I am always teaching others about how valuable our resources are. I teach kids and adults alike about the concepts of selective harvest and catch-and-release. I talk to people about releasing trophy fish instead of eating them or stuffing them, so that those fish can pass down their wonderful genetics for possibly bigger fish in the future. I always encourage anglers to follow the rules and regulations of their state, so that they can be role models for future generations to come. 

What is Extreme Philly Fishing going to say when someone comes to it and says: "I have released trophy fish for 5 years, followed your advice on selective harvest and not littering, and the government just poisoned and killed a bunch of trophy fish in my local watershed in one day." 

So, please, government agencies out up to your reputation.

Best of luck to all of us,

Long Days and Pleasant Nights,


Leo S. (a.k.a. Extreme Philly Fishing)