Dead fish trigger Roberts Lake complaints
Complaints about dozens of dead bass, bluegills, catfish, carp and other fish lying on the surface of Rohnert Park’s Roberts Lake have been streaming in to the Press Democrat, online forums and even the city government.
Fishermen and others who have long enjoyed the pond near the golf course are alarmed about the volume of fish found floating or gasping for oxygen. Most are estimated to be 3-7 pounds and a few as large as 12 pounds, according to Andrew Simpkins, who took photos of the dead fish on Sept. 27.
Simpkins, who witnessed more than 30 dead bass, posted his photos along with the following comments on Belly Boat Bass Club’s message board, an online forum for anglers:
“Sure is sad to see fish that big dead! Would have loved to catch and release just one of those bass! Fish of a lifetime, just floating on the surface! It takes A LOT to kill a fish that old! Doesn’t it? Something major went wrong!”
Speculation about the causes range from golf course run-off, highway construction, pH levels, pollution, and even garbage. Simpkins recently caught three plastic grocery bags on his spinner.
Disgusted and disappointed over the condition of the lake, Jennifer Kesser filed a “Complaint on Dead Animals” to Rohnert Park city officials on Sept. 26. Her brother, James Kesser, also took photos of the dead fish.
“I am horrified by the dead wildlife floating by the hundreds. How awful this cute pond where I used to to eat lunch is now a cesspool. Why is RP not acting?!!” she wrote in the report.
Tom Kelly, a general services supervisor for Rohnert Park who oversees the landscape around the lake, responded in his report that “the water is doing its natural seasonal turn over,” which could be responsible for the die off. He said it happens every year, but this is the first one anyone has complained about it.
Kelly notes that the lake’s primary use is as a holding pond for irrigation. He says the water is shallow and warm, especially in summer months, and possibly not cold enough to sustain the amount of wildlife it contains.
Each May, the Rohnert Park Fishing Derby gets a Fish and Game permit to stock the lake with 500-1,000 Rainbow trout for its annual competition, according to Derby president Ken Schach. He has run the derby for 11 of its 29 years and hasn’t ever heard of fish dying in these numbers.
“Maybe if the fish aren’t all caught at the derby, the natural amount the pond can support could be limited,” Kelly speculated in a phone call with the Press Democrat.
But Schach claims a large number of trout are either caught by kids at the derby or eaten by double-crested cormorants that descend on the lake each spring. The birds will consume eight to ten trout per day, he says. Within the next month, the bass take care of what is left.
John McArthur, Rohnert Park’s director of public works, describes the lake as a reclaimed water storage reservoir. He says the stagnant water is not an ideal environment for fish species and other aquatic life. Sustaining wildlife is not the purpose of the lake, he says.
“Roberts Lake is not designed for habitat. The fish population has built up over time, but no species will live there that long.”
Although some reports on last week’s death toll were estimated to be in the hundreds, Kelly says he “never saw anything” like that when he walked the perimeter and cannot confirm a number. He and McArthur also denied the rumor that the Department of Fish and Game came out to assess the current state of the lake or determined the cause of death to be a lack of aeration.
“It’s sad for us bass fishermen in the community,” says Phillip Ragueneau, otherwise known as Fishin’ Phil, who was at the lake Tuesday.
“There’s a huge family of bass that go back two and a half decades, as long as this lake has been here. Serious bass fishermen stop here, guys with $500 rods and reels. They know this lake has some trophy fish. Something happened to hurt those really strong fish that have persevered over the years.”
The water has not been tested for toxicity, but the city insists the water quality is normal since the treatment is regulated by the state.
During spring and fall, McArthur explained, small lakes and ponds experience a temperature conversion as oxygenated upper layers become cooler and bottom layers rise–especially with extreme heat in the day followed by cooler nights.
“For those fish to go bye-bye is really sad,” says Ragueneau. “Those are some big fish that made a lot of people’s day.”
If you’re concerned about the aesthetic and recreational status of this small lake and its natural resources, weigh in on the conversation. What do you think can be done?