Dead fish & seagulls invade Pultneyville

The Pultneyville Yacht Club was inundated with dead fish and plump, happy seagulls last week leaving local boaters with questions. Why all the dead and dying fish and just how many seagulls can fit in to one square foot?

Yacht Club members and customers of the adjacent Landing at Pultneyville became victims of sudden bird flights and accompanying cars also felt the brunt of bird droppings.

Jim Deatsch, member and Environmental Officer for the Yacht Club said he noticed struggling and dying fish cropping up about 10 days ago. “The gulls were having a field day. I even saw a couple of turkey buzzards come by, but they were chased off by the seagulls,” said Deatsch. “This is not a good thing. The gulls won’t eat the dead ones,” he added.

Yacht Club member Don Byrnes of Walworth said he noticed the tens of thousands of dead fish and accompanying seagulls last Wednesday. The main channel of the Yacht Club remained clear, but the offshoot dock areas remained cluttered with dead and dying fish.

The small fish, known as alewives, often exhibit seasonal die-offs and can be seen, usually in mid-May, washed up on the shorelines of the Great Lakes. Alewives were introduced to the Great Lakes as food fish for the species such as lake trout and the introduced Pacific salmon.

Ironically, the DEC (Department of Conservation) had poured thousands of 4” to 6” brown trout off the Pultneyville Point a week before.

Was this a case of nature taking its course and an alewives die-off, or was there something amiss with the fish? Why did the fish die just in the Pultneyville channel and nowhere else along the shoreline in either direction?

The DEC was not taking any chances. On Tuesday (5/13) the DEC took samples of the dead fish and sent them to Cornell for testing. Some on the scene believed it could be viral hemorrhagic septicemia, a deadly infectious fish disease that afflicts over 50 species of freshwater and marine fish in several parts of the northern hemisphere.

Webster (Web) Pearsall, the Regional Fishery Manager for the DEC out of the Avon Office, was leaning more to the natural cause of the fish die-off. “This is part of a normal cycle.” The cold winter and warm waters feeding the lake cause a sudden rift in water temperatures that the alewives simply cannot tolerate. He noted that since the fish die-off in the Pultneyville channel, similar reports are now coming in from other Lake Ontario feeds, including the Genesee River outlet. “It is an issue of thermal shock on the fish,” concluded Pearsall. He added that the fish scoop-up and samples sent to Cornell was just to confirm what he believed. Sodus Town Supervisor and longtime boat captain, Steve Leroy, said he has seen this type of fish kill numerous times in his boating career. “I could be wrong, but I believe they will find no contaminants in the fish.”