State deems large fish kill natural at Somerset County lake
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.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter .