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Dead fish trigger Roberts Lake complaints

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012 | Posted by

Dead bass float at Roberts Lake (Andrew Simpkins)

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.

(Andrew Simpkins)

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.”

Rohnert Park’s Roberts Lake (Nicole R. Zimmerman/Press Democrat)

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?

  • Itsme

    Complain to the city manager. He’s got plenty of money from cutting employee pay and benefits.

    Oh? You say he spent it on his $100/hour contractor who is heading the city’s Human Relations Dept.? The one he took in, bypassing the civil service hiring process?

  • Bruce Hagemann

    I have been raising many fish in your lakes for years By no mean,s do I clam to be an expert.This is natural thing. You can correct the problem By turning the lake over with under water blubbers and aerators.to keep the oxygen up.and the oxygen level balanced in the lake, However the fish need to be caught and taken home and eaten not released , as the fish grow in numbers all the oxygen in the world is not enough if there,s too many fish in the lake. This is what I expect. I have a little knowledge about this lake. I have been watching it and others.

  • WBuckingham

    This lake is stocked. It’s not even natural that all those fish would/should be there. And we worry when they die. Nature is not for us to control. And, yes, it is sometimes brutal.

  • Joe Smoe

    Maybe someting will be done, but I highly doubt it. Not a resource people care to notice since it is not important to them and does not directly effect their being. If it was found out that there is toxic effects in the ecosystem and it could directly effect humans then something would be done. For now, we will probably just have to except it, afterall it could just be a natural occurance that happens every year, but then again it could just be a reflection of the toxic society we live in today. Hmmm–but I wonder why a certain green algae is showing up at places like Spring Lake or Clear Lake that can potential kill small animals or pets. Now it time to take notice before these treasures are taken away for ever!! Just my spare change.

  • Tristan

    Well the fact that Tom Kelley said, “the water is doing its natural seasonal turn over,” is true. But, this natural turnover would never kill the amount of fish that is appearing now. I have fished this pond for years, during this same time, never seeing dead fish anywhere near the amount that is appearing now. Obviously, something is different. Never in the recent past has a fish kill occurred there like this.
    John McArthur said, “Roberts Lake is not designed for habitat. The fish population has built up over time, but no species will live there that long.”The fact that there are 12lbers in there is proof that the pond is healthy, and if a fish kill like this had happened before, there would be no fish anywhere near that size. And not only Largemouth Bass, but large Carp and Koi are also dying, check the pictures. This year is different, and the fact that it seems like it is just being ignored is wrong. The pond is not that large, so to have that amount washing up on shore is alarming. Have the pond checked out correctly, and lets see if we can fix the problem. If aeration is the problem, I cannot imagine that it would be too hard to add a fountain or two, or even aquatic plants. (And hopefully it is as simple as that). I would be happy to talk with the Press Democrat some more if they would like.

  • PleaseDoSomething

    The problem isn’t too many fish in the lake! The problem is that huge 10 year old/10 pound fish are dying. I agree, death is a natual occurance, but it’s not natural for fish that big to die for no reason! Those fish have seen the water turn over year after year after year! It’s not due to the natural water turning over. The water should definitely be tested for toxicity levels! And the Department of Fish and Game needs to come out and assess the problem!

  • Dennis

    I’ve mapped Roberts like with Sonar. It’s pretty much 4-6 feet everywhere. Lakes that are 4-6 feet deep do not turn over. With all due respect, Tom Kelly, your answer was laughable.

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