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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Jim Lynch / The Detroit News
St. Clair Shores

State wildlife experts want to know why thousands of dead fish are floating on Lake St. Clair near St. Clair Shores.

Rotting fish, including smallmouth bass, muskie, walleye, perch and bass, are littering boat wells and shorelines across several miles.

"It was just unbelievable," said Adam Jankowski, a Harrison Township resident who usually puts his boat in the water at St. Clair Shores. "Thursday and Friday, my wife and I were on the boat coasting south from 11 Mile Road to Seven Mile Road. We saw fish after fish after fish -- all dead."

Officials with Michigan's Department of Natural Resources began receiving complaints about a fish kill last week, but answers remain a long way off. Biologists removed fish -- both live and dead -- from Lake St. Clair and sent them on to a laboratory in Lansing for testing.

However, many of the dead fish were already so decomposed that they may yield nothing to investigators. The live fish taken in showed no outward signs of disease, said Bob Haas, a DNR fish research biologist. Results from the samples taken won't be available for six to eight weeks.

"At this point, we're certain that this originated somewhere out on the lake because the winds have been from the northeast -- blowing all of the fish into the shore area," Haas said. Since fish are being found over a fairly wide area, and have been turning up for nearly a week, Haas said it is hard to pin down how many have died. But he said the figure is likely in the thousands.

Lake St. Clair has seen its share of fish kills for various reasons. In 2006, thousands of fish turned up dead from viral hemorrhagic septicemia, a particularly nasty disease that has been likened to "Ebola for fish." The virus has caused large-scale die-offs among several species such as muskies, perch, trout, gobies and emerald shiners.

Officials said no signs point to VHS in the latest fish kill.

In 2000, state officials attributed two large fish kills to chlorine used in wastewater treatment at the Chapaton Pumping Station.

For 30 years, Bruce Terwilliger has lived in a Lange Street home that backs up to a canal feeding Lake St. Clair. And while dead fish occasionally turn up, what he has seen lately is something completely different.

"I've never seen a fish kill like this," Terwilliger said Monday afternoon.

"There are probably 30 dead smallmouth bass and few carp out in our part of the canal right now."

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