Thousands of fish that died about five weeks ago in an oxygen-depleted Suck's Lake have been washing ashore as ice melts on the city-owed lake near Harrison Street and Lamar Avenue.

The result is a smelly wall of rotting carcasses.

"It will be a mess for a little bit," said Todd McCoy, Grand Island parks and recreation director. "Parks maintenance staff have been out with buckets picking them up."

The kill was a "natural occurrence," McCoy said.

Ice cover on the 12-foot-deep lake prevented much new oxygen from entering the water. Snow on top of the ice compounded the problem by not letting much light in, he said.

But Nebraska Game and Parks Commission fisheries specialist Brad Newcomb attributed the low oxygen levels to excessive waterfowl waste that has raised nitrogen levels and algae in the lake.

Newcomb said he doubts the commission will continue its annual stocking of fish at the lake until the city fixes the problem.

"I have been getting resistance from my administration to continue the stocking program until the city reduces the waterfowl," Newcomb said.

The commission had been stocking trout in the lake every March and stocking catfish every other year.

Plans were under way at the commission's Kearney service center to stock trout in Suck's Lake in about five weeks, but Newcomb said, after what he saw on Wednesday, that plan is off.

What he found were thousands of dead fish -- all sizes and all species.

Newcomb had investigated the lake just after the kill in early January, but until Wednesday, he was unable to determine the number of fish lost because many were being held underwater by the ice.

As temperatures rose, the ice started to melt and the fish have washed ashore. Much of the ice broke away on Monday, Newcomb said.

As the carcasses have been cleared away, he said, no live fish have been seen.

"I'm guessing this is a near-total kill of the lake," Newcomb said on Wednesday afternoon.

In the count of dead fish are 2,000 gizzard shad, 2,000 bluegill, 400 common carp, 400 rainbow trout, 225 channel catfish and 225 largemouth bass.

"There were a lot of big carp -- 15 to 25 inches long," Newcomb said.

Catfish weighing 3 to 5 pounds and bass measuring 15 to 20 inches were also in the kill.

While wintertime fish kills in small lakes and ponds can be commonplace in the Midwest, McCoy said, the city hasn't had a problem with kills at Suck's Lake in the past.

The most common fish kills in city lakes have occurred at Pier Lake, where large populations of waterfowl contributed to nutrients in the lake that were too excessive for the fish. The city added aeration fountains to Pier Lake to help alleviate the kills there.

Even so, Newcomb said water quality at Pier Lake remains so poor that only fish that can tolerate poor water quality -- bullheads and green sunfish -- have survived there. The commission no longer stocks fish at Pier because of the poor water quality, he said.

There are no plans to add aeration to Suck's Lake.

"We don't have the budget for it," McCoy said.

A fish kill late last fall at Liberty Lake at the Grand Island Veterans Home led to Boy Scout Kyle Whitely spearheading a $1,500 Eagle Scout project to add a windmill-operated aeration system there.

Before Newcomb arrived Wednesday afternoon, McCoy said he believed there still might be fish living in Suck's Lake and those fish would thrive and get larger.

"We expect that it will continue to be a popular fishing spot," he said.

But the kill appeared to be much more severe than what officials initially may have thought, Newcomb said.

Even if the water quality improved immediately, he said, it will take two to three years for fingerling fish to grow to a size to accommodate public fishing again.

"We submitted a written waterfowl reduction plan to the city in 2008," Newcomb said. "Until the waterfowl problem is resolved, I see these fish kills continuing."

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