It wasn’t fishy, it was algae. Golden algae is behind the deaths of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of small fish found along the shoreline Saturday at Canyon Lake, state Fish and Game officials said Monday.
The deaths typically come when the algae bloom, releasing a toxin that irritates fish gills, ultimately suffocating the animals.
Some lake-goers Saturday told the Tribune they were staying out of the water for fear the lake was contaminated.
But officials insist the massive fish kills pose no danger to humans. The lakes are safe to swim in and fish taken alive are safe to eat, said Kirk Young, fisheries branch chief with the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
The microscopic killer has wreaked havoc at fisheries, lakes and reservoirs worldwide in recent years. In the United States, Texas has been hit hardest with more than 27 million fish lost since 2001.
Arizona officials don’t know how many fish have been lost to the algae but, “we don’t have kill numbers like Texas does,” Young said.
Fish and Game workers began taking samples of lake water in mid-March and quickly confirmed golden algae were blooming and causing the fish to die at Canyon Lake.
The same has happened a handful of times since the first documented outbreak in Arizona occurred in 2005.
Small bodies of water, such as urban lakes and ponds, can be treated with a copper-based algicide.
“But it just isn’t economically viable in a large system like Canyon Lake, Saguaro Lake or Apache Lake,” Young said.
All three reservoirs have experienced fish kills in the last two years.
Officials don’t know how long the current fish kill will last at Canyon Lake. Until this year, they believed the season lasted from March until June.
“But we saw the first report in February this year, so now we’re saying February to June,” Young said.