June 25, 2008

Powwow Pond Bass Kill Worse Than Expected, Survey Shows

By Margo Sullivan, The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.

Jun. 25--KINGSTON -- A fish count in Powwow Pond showed this winter's toll on bass was worse than originally feared, according to Ben Nugent, fisheries biologist with the state Fish and Game Department. He conducted an electro-fishing survey Sunday night and found only 10 bass in the pond.

"I was pretty surprised," Nugent said.

He estimated the survey should have turned up 60 bass "at a minimum." He said his next step will be to "plead" with local and state officials not to lower the water in Powwow Pond again.

Both Fish and Game and officials at the state Department of Environmental Services now have said the decision to lower the water level in October -- with the hope of killing aquatic weeds -- aggravated the winter fish kill.

"This fish kill is highly related to the lowering of the water table at Powwow Pond, where the water is relatively shallow," Nugent said.

He said the key indicator is that small fish, like sunfish and black crappie, managed to survive the winter, while bigger species, like largemouth bass, were hit hard. Nugent said because the water was drawn down, some fish were stranded in pools. When the water froze, there was not enough oxygen in the shallow pools for the bass to survive.

Dozens of fish in County Pond, which flows through Kingston and Newton, and hundreds in Powwow Pond were found dead this spring. State officials said the fish died due to severe winter weather that lowered or eliminated oxygen in the water and created toxic conditions for aquatic life.

The fish kill was worse at Powwow Pond, according to Jody Conner, with the state Department of Environmental Services. Both ponds had "severe" fish kills, he said previously, although the water was not lowered in County Pond.

Earlier this month, Joel Bader, a state Fish and Game pathologist, said he completed autopsy-like tests on the dead fish from Powwow Pond and found no evidence pollution or bacteria, like blue-green algae, killed the fish.

He also said the lowering of the water in Powwow Pond contributed to the severity of the fish kill. On average, Powwow Pond is only 4 feet deep. When 12 to 18 inches freeze, there's little water left for fish and aquatic life, he said. Nugent will suggest keeping the water in Powwow Pond as high as possible but noted competing interests are in play. Besides the controversy over killing aquatic weeds, some residents are worried about flooding.

"We realize there's a flood storage issue," he said.

Nugent said the good news is small fish are thriving in Powwow Pond, based on the survey. Results showed the pond is supporting a healthy population of sunfish and black crappie, in particular.

The survey is performed in a boat by sweeping the pond with electrical charges. The charges, administered by electrodes on booms running about 8 feet in front of the boat, stun the fish, so they surface. The fish are momentarily unable to swim but recover quickly. Nugent said he did six runs on Powwow Pond and expected to see 10 bass every run.

Jim Mercurio of Kingston said the sweeps turned up seven bass in the last run, which covered the deepest water in the pond. But no bass appeared in three sweeps of the pond. Mercurio, Chuck Corso and Will Sable helped Nugent with the survey from 8:30 p.m. until a few minutes before midnight.

Mercurio said they directed Nugent to the spots where the bass fishing was typically good, and collected the fish in nets to be measured and listed by type.

"We were all quite disappointed," he said when so few bass popped out of the water.

Most of the bass were small, he said, and measured between 6 and 12 inches. All the rest of the fish were perch, sunfish, pickerel and black crappie. They also saw eels, he said.


To see more of The Eagle-Tribune or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.eagletribune.com/.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.