A photograph circulating on social media has some anglers, and tournament officials, questioning how fish were handled by Grand River Dam Authority officials after a one-day event on Grand Lake.
The photo, captured by bystanders and posted to Facebook, appears to show a number of fish floating on top of the water as fish GRDA officials release the fish on Saturday, June 25, at the Red 11 dock in the Hickory Grove area of Grand Lake.
On Saturday, GRDA officials collected fish caught at the Anglers in Action trailered tournament at Wolf Creek Park.
As in 2015, this year's event was modified because of the Thunder on Wolf Creek boat races.
As a trailered tournament anglers could put in and take out at any dock on the lake. They were required to be back at Wolf Creek Park for the weigh-in at 3 p.m.
Anglers followed the four-fish rule, and shorter fishing hours, which run from June 15 to after Labor Day, during the hottest part of the summer. The rules were instituted by GRDA officials more than a decade ago in order to promote fish care.
According to Justin Alberty, spokesman for GRDA, water temperatures were recorded at 87 degrees by 7 a.m., on Saturday.
During the event, Tournament Director Charlie Terrell said of the 250 to 300 fish brought in by anglers, 13 came across the scales dead.
Terrell said the remaining fish were placed in the GRDA release trailer, maned by Dr. Darrell Townsend, GRDA assistant general manager and Ecosystems and Lake Management director, and a member of the GRDA Police Department.
Terrell said the general practice for fish that arrive dead at the scale is to place the fish in a cooler, so that it can be given to someone for a food source.
Terrell said it is not unusual to have some fish die during a summer month tournament, however, not to the extent as to what is shown attributed to the tournament.
Terrell said he questioned Townsend, when GRDA officials probed the water in the release trailer, one side indicated that the oxygen level was 2.8 on one side of the tank, and 3.1 on another.
"That's a recipe for disaster," Terrell said.
Townsend said while the release trailer's oxygen levels were lower than the state recommended levels of 5 milligrams per liter, the trailer's water had an adequate supply of oxygen.
"Pretty simple, it was all related to water temperatures," Townsend said. "The hotter the water temperature gets, the mortality rates increase."
Townsend said last weekend's water temperatures mimicked what is typically seen in August, causing many of the lake's fish to seek cooler, deeper waters.
Townsend said when those fish were caught, their "swim bladders" remained expanded as they were brought to the shallow waters and placed in the live wells.
Townsend said this places the fish under increased stress. He said anglers can "bleed" or deflate the swim bladders manually, often using a needle, in order to help fish adjust as they are returned to the lake.
Townsend said it was stress, associated with their capture, and the day's extreme heat, led to the fish deaths.
"We didn't release anything dead at that time," Townsend said. "Those that were floating were still alive, but weren't able to swim [because of the issues with their swim bladders]."
Townsend said people working the release trailer pulled all of the dead fish from anglers bags as they came across the scales.
"Temperature was the driving factor here," Townsend said. "All of the science points to extreme temperature....people and fish can both get stressed by the heat."
Justin Alberty, spokesman for GRDA said the recent fish kill was unfortunate, and GRDA officials are working to address the issue.
"We certainly feel that water temperatures (over 84 degrees at the time of the tournament) were certainly a factor," Alberty said in a written statement. "GRDA’s goal is to prevent this from happening again, by continuing our fisheries protection efforts and by working with an angling community that does care greatly about these lakes and the great fishing opportunities they present.”
"Big" Al McCulloch, director of marketing and promotion with Midwest Fish Tournaments, the parent company for AIA, said he and Terrell are already working to address the issues from a tournament's perspective.
"When we come back, the tournament won't be this late in June," McCulloch said. "We'll also adjust the hours of when [our anglers] fish."
McCulloch said they will also have someone on hand to help monitor the fish in the trailer, to ensure all are released alive back into the lake.
"In 10 years and in 300 tournaments, we've never run into this problem," McCulloch said. "We did the exact same tournament last year, where anglers trailered their fish in, put them in the release tank...[without] one single problem.
"I told them over and over, [you can't] just put the fish in there, let them swim around and release them. There's an art to it."