Wildlife officials say dead fish found in Lake Erie killed by virus, not chemical spill

Wildlife officials say dead fish found in Lake Erie killed by virus, not chemical spill
Dead fish float in Lake Erie. (Source: WOIO)
Dead fish float in Lake Erie. (Source: WOIO)
Fishermen on the pier in Avon Lake. (Source: WOIO)
Fishermen on the pier in Avon Lake. (Source: WOIO)

AVON LAKE, OH (WOIO) - Dozens of dead fish have been found floating in Lake Erie or washing ashore by fishermen and residents in Avon Lake and Sheffield Lake. Cleveland 19 has had a number of calls, emails and posts about the unusual amount of dead fish showing up on the shoreline near those communities.

Many people wanted to know if a recent chemical spill into the lake from the Ford Plant in Avon Lake could be the cause. We learned wildlife officials narrowed down the cause without even having to test the fish.

A supervisor with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said they started getting concerned calls from people on Wednesday. The callers said they were finding 10 to 15 dead fish at a time.

Cleveland19 went out to Miller Road Park in Avon Lake to check it out ourselves. We found about 20 to 25 dead fish floating near the shore.

The ODNR sent a wildlife officer to check on the situation Wednesday. Lake Erie Unit fishery supervisor Eric Weimer said the fish are freshwater drum, also known as sheephead.

They're 12 to 30 inches long and weigh up to 10 pounds.

The Ohio EPA told the ODNR that the spill from the Ford plant is as "non-toxic as a chemical spill can be."

Officials say if that was the cause, all types of fish would have started dying right away. Since it's only one species dying in small numbers, ODNR officials believe the freshwater drum have a virus called VHS or Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia.

It's a virus usually spread in much colder waters. We spoke to fishermen out at the lake about the fish kill.

"I'm hoping it's an isolated incident and not spreading to the game fish. But who knows, I have no idea what could be killing those fish," said Mike Mytnick, who was out fishing for Walleye.

He said most people don't fish for them or eat them.

"Sheephead are good to catch when nothing's biting," he said.

Anthony Tucker, who we found fishing on the pier, is not entirely reassured.

"When we initially came out here we was gonna keep them, but now I don't think we gonna keep any fish," he said.

"As long as it don't affect the white bass, it's okay," Tucker said laughing.

The ODNR said if more species are affected or larger numbers of dead fish are found, they will collect and test samples. They say this virus could be due to common spawn stress.

You can learn more about freshwater drum fish by clicking here.

Copyright 2017 WOIO. All rights reserved.