Fish kills caused by lack of oxygen in water are somewhat common in shallow lakes of southern Minnesota, but extremely unusual in northern Minnesota.
Which is why the large fish kill discovered recently on the Pelican River near Orr raised eyebrows.
Thousands of fish, including northerns, crappies and bluegills, were killed.
"This is the worst fish kill I’ve ever seen in this area,’’ said Kevin Peterson, Department of Natural Resources area fisheries supervisor in International Falls. "I’ve been here for more than 15 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.’’
The dead fish, many frozen solid in the ice, were found on a 2-mile stretch of the Pelican River from the outlet of Pelican Lake downstream past Hwy. 53, just south of Orr.
"It’s a direct result of the drought we’re experiencing up here,’’ Peterson said. The water level in the river was low going into the winter, and once it froze, oxygen levels became depleted, killing the fish.
"Many were literally frozen in the ice,’’ he said. Now with the thaw, eagles are having a feast, he said.
The impacts will be primarily to the river, and not other waters downstream.
"It’s an unfortunate loss of a pretty nice and probably not well-known resource,’’ Peterson said. "Our lakes get all the attention. But our streams offer some blue-ribbon fishery. Our crews were surprised by the quality and quantity of game fish there.’’