CEDAR CITY – Several residents have complained about finding dead fish in the Lake at the Hills but others have also raised concerns about being bit while in the water.
In recent weeks, several residents have found dead trout in the lake with what they say looks like their fins completely “eaten away.”
Recreational fish biologist with the Utah Division Wildlife Resources Mike Hadley said the trout are largely a cold-water fish and are dying due to the elevated water temperatures of late.
“This does happen every summer but it appears to be worse this time due to the extended heat spell that we’ve been going through,” Hadley said. “We stock trout in the spring and in the fall so that they can be caught and harvested during favorable conditions but obviously not all fish are caught, so some die off in the summer.”
The “eaten” fins, Hadley said is called “fin erosion,” and is often seen among trout raised in hatcheries with cement raceways. These types of fish are common, he added, in community ponds that are generally stocked with fish raised in hatcheries.
As for the bites, Hadley blames these on the multitude of small bluegill and green sunfish swimming the waters.
“Unlike the trout and catfish that are wary, the bluegill and sunfish are curious,” Hadley said. “They often make mistakes spots, like a mole, on someone’s skin for bugs and they’ll just jump up and peck at them. It’s nothing to be concerned about though. They just peck.”
The biologist said he has seen the same thing at Lake Powell and while “it’s often startling, it’s completely harmless.”
But some of the residents like Vincent Buenaventura said the bites are anything but “pecks.”
Buenaventura’s wife, Autumn, was recently bitten and whatever did it Buenaventura said, “it drew blood.”
“She has a really high pain tolerance too but the bite hurt her,” Buenaventura said. “This was more than a peck.”
Carin Miller’s daughter, Samantha, was also bitten but unlike Buenaventura’s wife it wasn’t close to a mole or freckle.
“It took a chunk of skin,” Miller said. “It also drew blood. It wasn’t a lot and it wasn’t gushing but it bled and it hurt her.”
Some residents have questioned if the bites are coming from a piranha and points to news articles last March reporting a pacu was found dead along the shore of the fishing pond.
But while the pacu is cousin to the piranha, it’s reportedly more easy-going and lacks the nasty pointy-fanged teeth found on its relative.
It’s also unlikely there is a piranha in the lake Hadley said as they do not survive in cold water but are found in South American rivers where it’s warm.
Still, wildlife officials admit that people often drop off their aquarium fish in ponds, rivers and lakes after they’ve outgrown their tanks. Large gold fish were also recently found in the lake.
Both Hadley and Cedar City Manager Paul Bittmenn said they have not directly received any reports of bites like that of which Miller and Buenaventura are describing. Hadley however, said the descriptions do not match anything close to that of peck left by a bluegill or sunfish.
Bittmenn said they would like to hear from anyone who has experienced similar bites.
“I’d like to know if other people have had the same experience,” Bittmenn said. “I have only heard these stories third hand and some of them have been fourth and fifth hand off the internet. So, I’d like to see the bites and I want to hear directly from the people who this happens to. We can’t do anything about it until we know there’s a problem and if people are reporting it to us but instead go on Facebook to tell their friends then we have no way of verifying that information or being able to solve a potential issue.”
Likewise, Hadley said he also wants to hear from the public if they are experiencing bites that aren’t “just pecks.”
“The bluegill and sunfish shouldn’t hurt,” Hadley said. “They’re kind of annoying but they don’t’ even have teeth so there’s nothing that could be taking chunks out of the skin or leaving bitemarks as I’ve heard some people say.”
Ed. Note: Carin Miller is a former reporter at Cedar City News.
City Manager Paul Bittmenn: 435-586-2950
Fish biologist with DWR Mike Hadley: 435-865-6100
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