Fish population in North Dakota feeling effects of drought, heat

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After record-breaking heat, and very little rain to show for it, experts are saying that there may be a cause for concern for local fish populations.

Up until recently, North Dakota had many lakes and streams filled with fresh water.

Greg Power, the Fisheries Division Chief, said, “We’ve been wet for so long, starting in 1993. So we’ve been, here in the last few years, a record number of fishing waters here in our state, about 440.”

Some streams, such as this one right next to the North Dakota Game and Fish headquarters, are nearly dried up.

Power said, “On normal flows, the rocks are pretty much covered. But right now we’re actually below the rocks in our stream flows.”

This is leading to water quality issues, which are deadly to fish and other wildlife.

As a general rule, we want to see lakes at a minimum of 14 feet in depth.

Right now, however, lakes are starting to approach that level, and some are even going below that.

Power said, “If it gets shallower than that, we tend to see summer or winter kill.”

Paul Bailey from North Dakota Game and Fish says these extreme conditions can even have impacts lasting through the winter.

“Shallower lakes have a greater chance of winter kill occurring during our severe winters than our much deeper lakes,” said Bailey.

The shallow water is also making it difficult for boaters to even get out on the water.

Power said that if this continues, we will continue to have access issues for boaters going into next summer.

North Dakota waters are not only drying up due to the drought but also warming up to near-record levels.

This can lower oxygen levels, which the fish need to survive.

Bailey said that there is a certain range of temperatures different species of fish are best suited to live in.

Outside of this range, however, can have various health effects.

Bailey said, “other things become more difficult for those fish too, such as obtaining food, and other metabolic processes such as digesting food and those sorts of things.”

We’re not out of the woods yet, as there’s still potential for triple digits in the forecast.

The last high temperature in Bismarck under 90 degrees was July 10, when the high was 88 degrees.

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