This point of the year can be a stressful one for members of the Iowa DNR as they wait for the ice to clear so they can be sure the fish population is still high. Biologist Mike Hawkins says his team recently collected reports of dead fish under the ice.
"We saw a lot of small drum, freshwater drum, that were dead, but we didn't see any bigger fish and we also saw a lot of live fish as well in the camera," Hawkins said.
That is great news considering the kind of winter KELOLAND endured.
"The snow cover, along with that ice thickness, and then the length of the winter, all kind of add up to create these bad conditions underneath the ice," Hawkins said.
An average winter on the Iowa Great Lakes can put about 24 to 26 inches of ice on the waters, but this winter was an entirely different situation. They were dealing with ice that reached 36 inches thick.
"It can affect all species; some species are affected more than others. Typically, though, those winter kills aren't complete, so you have a remnant fish population," Hawkins said.
Hawkins says that's a good sign because the remaining population can reproduce naturally, but sometimes the fish hatchery needs to step in and help in that process as well.
Ice thickness in the Iowa Great Lakes reached levels that they hadn't seen in almost 14 years, and that gave the DNR some concern about fish population. Overall, they feel that they've come out of this winter unscathed.
"As ice starts to recede around the outside of those lakes, we'll start to get a picture of what might've happened under the ice, and it looks like we're going to be ok. We'll get a true picture when all the ice goes off and we've still got a lot of that," Hawkins said.
The ice is beginning to recede, so Hawkins and his team will soon begin more hands-on observations of what kind of a fish kill, if any, took place this winter.