Hundreds of dead fish surface in Alberta lake

Hundreds of dead fish have surfaced in an Alberta lake near Edson, and an avid fly fisherman says the government's new winter aeration technique is to blame.

'The whole lake is dead, there's not a live fish in there'

A new aeration system implemented in some Alberta lakes this winter led to lower oxygen levels, and more dead fish this spring. (Weekly Anchor)

Hundreds of dead fish have surfaced in an Alberta lake near Edson, and an avid fly fisherman blames the government's new winter aeration technique.

Alton Hunter said he noticed dead trout appearing on the shores of Millers Lake, near Edson, when the ice began to melt this spring. 

Hunter, who lives at the lake and owns Ron's Outdoor Source for Sports in Edson, said this winter the government replaced the surface aerators that had been used for 20 years to oxygenate the lake with a different aeration system.

It didn't work, Hunter said.

"The oxygen didn't go into the lake, and it's dead," he said. "I was down there when the ice first came off and you could count 200 to 300 dead fish floating on the surface. The whole lake is dead, there's not a live fish in there."

Previous aeration system a liability, Alberta Conservation Association says

Millers Lake is one of 17 Alberta lakes aerated by the government and the Alberta Conservation Association each year to ensure stocked fish survive when the lakes freeze over.

The lake was one of nine in central Alberta fitted by the ACA with new diffuser aeration systems this winter.

Has it worked as well as we had hoped it would work? No. There is some degree of fish kill at some lakes.- Ken Kranrod, vice-president, Alberta Conservation Association

Vice-president Ken Kranrod said the switch from surface aerators, which leave a hole in the ice, was necessary after lawyers advised them of legal ramifications of leaving an open hole.

Under Section 263 of the Criminal Code, anyone "who makes or causes to be made an opening in ice that is open to or frequented by the public is under a legal duty to guard it." That means serious charges — including manslaughter — could arise if someone were to accidentally fall through ice. 

Liability issues meant doing nothing wasn't an option, Kranrod said, so the ACA settled on using diffuser aerators this winter.

"When you weigh all the different factors, we came up with this as the best approach and we gave it a try," Kranrod said. "Has it worked as well as we had hoped it would work? No. There is some degree of fish kill at some lakes."

Kranrod said aeration is a shared responsibility with the Alberta government. He said not all aerated lakes were affected by fish kills, but the ACA is already in talks with the government to see how aeration outcomes can be improved.

The only reason they changed aeration techniques was to avoid liability issues as defined in the Criminal Code, he said. 

"We're revisiting that again to hopefully come up with a solution in conjunction with government to perhaps address that issue right at the start," he said. 

"If not, then we will be looking at re-jigging the types of aeration that we do."

David Park, director of fisheries management policy with the Alberta government, said he's not aware of anyone having fallen through a hole drilled in the ice for a surface aerator.

But given this year's results, he said the government will reconsider the use of diffusion aerators.

"My understanding is the surface aerators can and will likely be used next year," Park said. 

The Alberta Conservation Association says they're in talks with the government to use the surface aerators next year, which have been successful for decades. (Weekly Anchor)

Fisherman wants old system put back in use

Hunter said in the past 20 he hasn't heard of a single problem with holes cause by surface aeration at Millers Lake. He would like to see a return to the surface aerators and the lake restocked with fish.

The lake has been annually stocked with around 12,500 rainbow and brown trout for 20 years, he said, and without good fishing, his property value and business would suffer.

"I know they didn't deliberately want to destroy the lake," he said. "[But] it did not function, it did not work, and basically we've lost the lake. It's sort of like watching your mother-in-law drive off a cliff in your antique Cadillac. Somebody dropped the football on the one yard line in the last play of the game."

"We've got to look at the future, what can we do to change this so it never happens again? And how fast can we get that done?"