DAYTON — Alan Meissner likes to take his grandson fishing during the hot summers. But last week, he discovered a gruesome sight at the city’s juvenile fishing pond.
“The bank all the way around the pond was covered with fish. Dead fish,” he said, pointing at the banks, which still smelled like they were rotting. “They were all over here. I couldn’t believe it.”
About 600 fish died when water levels in the Touchet River, which supplies the pond, dropped too low to continue pumping. Because the pond’s bottom is relatively porous cobble, water seeps out quickly and couldn’t be replaced once the river level was below the pond’s intake.
Glen Mendel, the district fish management biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said this year has been very dry, making it a challenge to keep the pond full.
Typically, Fish and Wildlife officials fill the pond in early or mid-March and stock it with fish shortly after. The river stays high enough to keep the pond full until late June or early July, at which point, most of the fish have been caught.
This year, however, fewer children were fishing, for reasons Mendel isn’t sure about. As a result, when the water went out of the pond early, more fish were killed.
“The fact that the pond de-watered and there were this many fish in the pond was a surprise,” he said.
Meissner was upset about the fish kill, which he said was a waste of good fish, as well as the money that pays for hatchery programs. He would like to see the pond maintained later in the summer so young people in Dayton have an opportunity for recreation after school gets out.
“This pond really complements the park. People can come to the park and let their kids come over here and fish,” he said. “We have a natural resource right here in town that gives the kids the opportunity to get out and stay out of trouble.”
Currently, the pond is maintained by a group of people that includes Mendel, as well as Mark Schuck, who works on it as a private citizen. Schuck said this year’s early de-watering was a clear indication that improvements to the pond were needed to fix the leakage out of the bottom.
“Most of the years, it’s not a problem. This year it was, and we ended up with a fish kill, so we have to try to do better,” he said.
Mendel said next year Fish and Wildlife may reallocate some hatchery fish to other ponds in Southeastern Washington, since this year indicated that not as many people were fishing when the Dayton pond was open.
He hopes the pond can be improved so it can be reliable even in the face of drought, but added that maintenance is difficult because most people responsible for the pond have larger responsibilities that take priority, and securing funding for improvements is difficult.
“Right now, it’s just falling through the cracks,” he said.