State deems large fish kill natural at Somerset County lake | TribLIVE.com
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State deems large fish kill natural at Somerset County lake

Stephen Huba
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Adam Platt via Facebook
Dead bluegill can be seen floating in the water at Cranberry Glade Lake in Somerset County.
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Adam Platt via Facebook
This picture shows numerous dead bluegill floating on the surface of Cranberry Glade Lake in Somerset County.
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Adam Platt via Facebook
Cranberry Glade Lake in Lower Turkeyfoot Township, Somerset County, is managed by the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission.

What some people are calling a disaster — an extensive fish kill at Cranberry Glade Lake in Somerset County — is most likely the result of an unfortunate but natural occurrence, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission said.

The state agency sent a waterways conservation officers to the lake this week to investigate after getting reports of a fish kill involving mostly bluegill and common carp. Witnesses told the Tribune-Review they saw dead fish floating in shallow parts of the 72-acre, man-made lake, located in Lower Turkeyfoot Township on Pennsylvania Game Commission land.

“It’s a disaster,” said Walter Sowa, of Irwin, who spends weekends at his a cottage at the lake. “You can see the fish coming up under the weeds. … It’s a terrible thing.”

Sowa said he saw “hundreds” of dead fish and reported it to the state Fish & Boat Commission, which manages the lake.

“They don’t seem to be concerned,” he said.

PFBC spokesman Mike Parker said a waterways conservation officer investigated and, after consulting with the Area 8 biologist, determined that the cause was probably an excessive growth of vegetation caused by the heat.

“It was significant enough to warrant an investigation, but not so overwhelming that it seemed atypical,” Parker said. “It is suspected to be what we would consider an O2, or oxygen, depletion.”

Cranberry Glade Lake is already known for having extensive aquatic vegetation, which is exacerbated in the summertime by high heat and sunlight, Parker said.

“One of the side effects of hot weather is aquatic plants and aquatic animals compete for habitat and oxygen,” he said. “There’s not enough oxygen for aquatic life. It seems to us like a natural event. Unfortunately, it happens in hot weather.”

Parker said the putrid smell reported by some probably has to do with algae growth.

While underwater vegetation usually is good for fishing, providing natural cover for fish, excessive growth can lead to a fish kill and poor fishing conditions, he said.

Jenna Plocki, 27, of Scottdale, said she was at the lake on Sunday and saw several dead fish. She was concerned enough to call state Rep. Matt Dowling, R-Uniontown, state Sen. Pat Stefano, R-Connellsville, and several conservation organizations.

After the PFBC posted a routine biologist report for Cranberry Glade Lake on its Facebook page last week, Plocki felt the need to comment.

“For years my dad, as well as other nearby landowners, have been contacting the fish and boat commission about the overgrowth of vegetation without any results,” she wrote. “We know that there WERE lunkers (an especially large game fish) in the lake, but we want to know what caused this fish kill and why nothing has been done about the overgrowth of vegetation.”

The biologist report gave the results of a fish net survey conducted in April 2018 and an electrofishing survey conducted in May 2019. Electrofishing is a common scientific survey method and is not harmful to fish.

The report noted that the black crappie population had grown considerably since the last survey in 2009, but that the bluegill population had dropped since that time.

“Excessive aquatic vegetation hampered largemouth bass electrofishing collections at Cranberry Glade Lake,” the report said.

The report noted the presence of several species of game fish and panfish, including yellow perch, pumpkinseed, northern pike and brown bullhead catfish, but that productivity was “limited.” The 2016 record for the largest bullhead catfish caught in the state (3 pounds, 1 ounce; 17 inches) was set at Cranberry Glade Lake.

Prior to his retirement in November 2018, PFBC Executive Director John Arway wrote in the agency’s bimonthly newsletter that he caught his first fish “from a small wooden boat dock” at Cranberry Glade Lake.

Although the lake once had a reputation as a good fishing lake, that reputation is waning, Plocki and Sowa said.

Peter Livengood, 18, of Dunbar, grew up going to Cranberry Glade Lake with his family and has watched with sadness what some characterize as its decline. In pursuit of the Boy Scouts’ William T. Hornaday Silver Medal for Conservation, he did a research project in 2018 on ways to save the lake.

“The aquatic vegetation issue has become so severe over the past several years that the lake is nearly unusable. Cranberry Glade Lake used to be a popular fishing and recreation lake but is now rarely visited,” he wrote in a post for the Wildlife Leadership Academy.

Livengood, an incoming freshman at California University of Pennsylvania, spent more than 200 hours on his research project. He concluded, among other things, that introducing triploid grass carp into Cranberry Glade Lake was not a feasible way to control excessive vegetation growth.

Using Google Earth Pro and satellite imaging, Livengood determined that 56% of the lake surface is covered by watershield, a native kind of water lily, and 14% is covered by spatterdock, another native plant.

An invasive plant known as curly-leafed pond weed grows in about 22% of the lake, mostly in the middle part that looks clear from the surface, he said. When that non-native plant dies back in July, its decomposition can exacerbate oxygen depletion in the lake, he said.

Livengood said other factors are the water temperature – 70-80 degrees during his research project – and the shallowness of the lake. The average depth is 4 feet, and the greatest depth is 7 feet, he said.

Livengood said the lake may gradually be filling in, through the process of plants dying back and adding to the sediment level at the bottom.

“It’s always had plants, but it’s gotten worse over the last several years,” he said, noting that the plant growth makes boating and fishing prohibitive.

“It’s not that there’s no fish in the lake, but getting to the fish underneath the plants is kind of difficult,” he said. “There’s not much attractive about the lake at this point. It’s very sad.”

Livengood said Cal U biology professor David Argent forwarded his research findings to the PFBC.

Parker said there’s only so much the PFBC can do to reclaim a lake like Cranberry Glen. Herbicides are not an option, so that leaves either lowering the water level in the winter or emptying the lake entirely.

“What we find is if we really get down there and dig out the existing seed bank, the stuff’s just going to come back annually in some fashion and spread,” Parker said.

To report a fish kill, call the PFBC toll-free hotline at 1-855-FISH-KIL.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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