New Mexico Department of Game and Fish biologists have found no apparent links to recent catfish deaths at Ute Lake and no long-term impacts on fish from an Aug. 16 underwater blast for the Ute Water Project, according to a NMDGF press release.
“After examining the lake, we have no concerns regarding the health of the fish or the lake as a result of the blast,” Department Fisheries Chief Mike Sloane said.
According to the press release:
• The Department documented six bluegill — the only game fish affected — seven common carp and 920 gizzard shad killed by the blast. Gizzard shad are a plentiful food source for many species of fish in the lake, but they are unattractive to anglers.
• Department biologists returned to the lake Aug. 27 to measure water quality at the dam and the intake after 30 dead catfish were reportedly found on shore and floating near the dam the previous weekend — a week after the blast. Biologists found only one dead catfish and determined that water quality parameters were normal.
• Department Sport-fish Program Manager Eric Frey said it is possible that the catfish were injured by a shockwave from the underwater blast and it ultimately caused their delayed deaths. Other possible causes include toxins in the water, and more common natural causes such as disease, parasites, stress or even lightning.
• The Department has worked closely with the project construction contractor to reduce impacts to fish by prohibiting construction activities during specific spawning times. The contractor also was required to detonate small “scaring” charges one minute prior to underwater blasting. The charges encourage fish to leave the blast area.
• The blast was required for the construction of the water intake facility for the project. No additional underwater blasting is scheduled.