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Dead carp washing up at Long Lake

Dead carp that Eric Staggs rounded up just before the 4th of July on Long Lake.  Courtesy of Alycia and Eric Staggs (Courtesy Stag / The Spokesman-Review)
Dead carp that Eric Staggs rounded up just before the 4th of July on Long Lake. Courtesy of Alycia and Eric Staggs (Courtesy Stag / The Spokesman-Review)

At Long Lake, hundreds of dead carp are washing up on beaches, collecting under docks and creating a stink for residents living along the 24-mile reservoir.

“If you’re water skiing on the lake, you see them constantly,” said Jeff Braviroff, a Suncrest resident, who started noticing the dead fish about a week ago. “There’s so many of them. … It’s going to be nasty when they really start to decay.”

The die-off puzzles officials at Avista Corp., who wonder if a virus is to blame. Carp is the primary fish species that appears to be affected, said Hugh Imhof, a spokesman for Avista, the owner of Long Lake Dam, which creates the reservoir on the Spokane River.

“We don’t think it’s a water quality issue,” Imhof said. “We haven’t spotted any algae blooms on the lake this year.”

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife sent out an officer to investigate the fish kill over the weekend. Officer Bob Weaver said he spotted dead aquatic plants as well as dead carp, which could indicate low oxygen levels. He forwarded the information to the agency’s fish management division, whose Spokane office was closed Monday as part of a statewide furlough.

Bottom-dwelling carp are abundant in Long Lake, where they reach weights of up to 15 pounds or greater. They spawn in June, creating roiling patches in the water.

The carp are easy prey during spawning season. Hunters are allowed to harpoon the carp or take them with a bow and arrow. Avista initially received reports of about 60 speared carcasses dumped into the middle of lake, Imhof said.

Later, more dead carp were spotted, and the carcasses didn’t show evidence of hunting, he said. Now, residents said they’ve seen hundreds of dead carp in the reservoir. The corpses are tangled up in patches of aquatic weeds.

Alycia Staggs and her husband, Eric, collected a bucketful of bloated carp from the beach of their Nine Mile Falls residence.

“It’s really a horrible smell – something between dead fish and rotting flesh,” Alycia Staggs said.

The couple lives near a slow-moving stretch of the reservoir that grows lily pads. In addition to the dead carp, Alycia Stagg said she spotted handful of other dead fish, including bass, crappie and perch.

Debbie Novak, another Nine Mile Falls resident, said she has about 30 dead carp floating off her beach. “We need to know what to do with them,” she said. “I feel sorry for the neighbors. Their daughter’s getting married in their yard later this month.”

In Idaho, reports of dead fish have also turned up at Spirit Lake and Blanchard Lake. In those areas, fluctuating water temperatures are the culprit, said Jim Fredericks, regional fishery manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

May and June are stressful months for warm water fish, such as bullheads, perch, bass, crappie and sunfish, he said. The fish are spawning, which requires lots of energy, and they’re sensitive to rapid changes in water temperatures.

Cooler-than-normal temperatures in May and June, with a few hot days mixed in, resulted in thermal shock in some fish, he said.

Several dozen dead fish were spotted near the shorelines, but “it’s not what I’d call a major die-off,” Fredericks said.