Winterkill and Other Fish Kills
What is Winterkill?
Winterkill is a term used to describe the loss of fish over the winter because dissolved oxygen was lacking in a waterbody. Submerged vegetation and algae create oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. During the winter, oxygen production is often reduced because growing ice cover and accumulating snow on the lake limit the amount of sunlight reaching vegetation. In small, shallow lakes the available oxygen can quickly be used up by fish and by bacteria that feed on dead and decaying vegetation during the process of decompositions. When the oxygen level declines, less tolerant fish species, and fish in poor condition overall, can begin to suffocate and die.
Winterkill is a natural process and not all results are detrimental. In lakes with high numbers of carp for example, periodic winterkill can thin out their numbers. In lakes that support gamefish, the fish population can rebound quite dramatically in years following winterkill. Intraspecific competition can be reduced following a winterkill, allowing fish to grow faster and to larger sizes. While some area lakes have installed aeration systems to reduce the possibility of winterkill, others are managed as "boom or bust" fisheries, at times providing some of the hottest fishing action in our area. In our walleye production ponds, stocking fry following winterkill generally results in better fingerling production and can occasionally produce great fishing. Winterkill in walleye production ponds eliminates disruptive benthivores, other competitors, and carry-over walleyes that can hamper young of year walleye fingerling production.
Some species of fish are more vulnerable to winterkill than others. Trout require the most oxygen and start to stress at oxygen levels below 5 ppm. Bluegill and largemouth bass also are moderately sensitive to lowered oxygen levels. Walleye, yellow perch, northern pike, common carp and crappie species have intermediate tolerances down to about 2 ppm, while bullheads and fathead minnows are the most tolerant of low oxygen. Winterkills seldom result in the death of all fish in a lake. Lakes with regular winterkill events are usually dominated by bullhead species.
Dissolved oxygen monitoring during the winter and trap net assessments after ice-out help us identify which lakes experienced winterkill, but often the only way to see if a lake has winterkilled is to observe dead fish at ice out and to follow up with nets for fish community assessment.
Dissolved Oxygen Monitoring
The Waterville Area Fisheries office monitors dissolved oxygen levels in area lakes that have aeration systems or have a history of winterkill. Dissolved oxygen is measured from the surface where the hole is cut and down to the substrate or wherever the dissolved oxygen probe cord ends (usually 10 feet). Typically one site is tested on each lake although more may be conducted if winterkill seems imminent or readings are below 2.0 milligrams/liter or parts per million. Readings on aerated lakes are usually taken near the aerator to see if an oxygen refuge is being maintained.
Lakes are monitored periodically as the winter progresses and the results are posted as soon as possible. If you do not see a lake listed, it likely does not have a history of winterkill, is not aerated, or was deemed unnecessary for testing.
Note: These lists are informational only and should not be considered complete or "official." Winterkill can be difficult to predict and may or may not occur regardless of the following results. Unit of measure for numbers listed below is milligrams/liter or parts per million dissolved oxygen.
Updated March 7, 2014
Which lakes experienced winterkill in 2013-2014?
|County||Extent of Winterkill||Actions to be taken||Comments|
|Albert Lea||Freeborn||High||Stock walleye, yellow perch||Many dead fish, turned off aerator to promote kill, boom and bust fishery|
|Clear||Le Sueur||Low||None||Surviving largemouth bass, bluegill, black crappie, yellow perch, and northern pike will repopulation lake|
|Cody||Le Sueur||High||Stock northern pike, yellow perch||Many dead fish, turned off aerators to promote kill, boom and bust fishery|
|Crystal||Blue Earth||Medium||None, regularly scheduled walleye stocking will continue||Many dead fish, frequent winterkill, boom and bust fishery, trapnets had many gamefish remaining|
|Dora||Le Sueur||Medium||None||Lake is subject to infrequent partial winterkills, trapnets had many gamefish remaining|
|Eagle||Blue Earth||Medium||None, regularly scheduled walleye stocking will continue||Many dead fish, boom and bust fishery, will be used for walleye fingerling rearing|
|Elysian||Waseca||Low||None, reguarly scheduled walleye and northern pike stocking will continue||Many dead fish, boom and bust fishery, surviving northern pike were used for hatchery egg take|
|Emily||Le Sueur||Low/None||None||Continue fish community monitoring|
|Fountain||Freeborn||Low||None||Continue fish community monitoring|
|Geneva||Freeborn||Medium||Stock northern pike, bluegill||Many dead fish, boom and bust fishery, yellow perch survival was fair to good|
|George||Blue Earth||High||Stock northern pike, bluegill, black crappie, largemouth bass||Many dead fish, trapnets had no gamefish remaining|
|Greenleaf||Le Sueur||Low/None||None||No dead fish, trapnets were loaded with surviving gamefish|
|Hiniker Pond||Blue Earth||High||Stock northern pike, largemouth bass, black crappie, and bluegill||Many dead fish observed at ice out|
|Horseshoe||Le Sueur||Low/None||None||No dead fish observed, trapnets were loaded with surviving gamefish|
|Lily||Waseca||High||Stock northern pike, largemouth bass, black crappie, and bluegill||Many dead fish, trapnets had no gamefish remaining|
|Loon||Blue Earth||Medium||None, regularly scheduled walleye stocking will continue||Many dead fish, frequent winterkill, boom and bust fishery, trapnets had many gamefish remaining|
|Mills||Blue Earth||High||Stock walleye fry||Many dead fish, trapnets had no gamefish remaining, will use for walleye fingerling rearing|
|Pepin||Le Sueur||High||Stock walleye fry||Many dead fish, trapnets had no gamefish remaining, will use for walleye fingerling rearing|
|Phelps||Le Sueur||High||Stock northern pike, yellow perch||Many dead fish, turned off aerators to promote kill, boom and bust fishery|
|Pickerel||Freeborn||High||Stock northern pike, yellow perch, bluegill||Many dead fish, trapnets held only a few small bullheads at ice out|
|Scotch||Le Sueur||Medium||Stock walleye fry||Many dead fish, trapnets held a few walleye but mostly small bullhead and a few carp|
|Steele||Le Sueur||High||Stock northern pike, largemouth bass, yellow perch, and bluegill||Many dead fish, history of winterkill, trapnets had no gamefish|
|Wita||Blue Earth||High||Stock walley fry||Many dead fish, trapnets had no gamefish remaining, will use for walleye fingerling rearing|