Summer 2013

By Captain John Giszczak

The Ford Lake Fish Kill Event:
Rotenone is a poison extracted from plants in the pea family. In the 1930’s scientists developed rotenone as a tool that could remove, sample, or destroy fish populations. Fish biologists and managers use rotenone to sample fish where non-lethal methods would not be effective. Rotenone is still used to eradicate rough fish from inland lakes to reduce competition for newly introduced trout and other game fish.

In 1973 the Michigan Department of Natural Resources used rotenone on Ford Lake in Ypsilanti to kill common carp, suckers, and bullhead, in order to open up the lake for stocking walleyes. The whole process was a debacle. To make limited amounts of rotenone more effective, upstream dams reduced water flow to Ford Lake in order to drop the water level by 3 feet. This created drought-like conditions throughout the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti reaches of the Huron River system.

Organizers expected around 1000 volunteers to help with the cleanup, but only 25 people showed up. I guess picking up rotting fish was not very appealing to people. Rotting fish lined the banks of Ford Lake for almost two weeks before the local government brought in prisoners to clean up the dead fish. To make matters worse a dam operator on the downstream end of Ford Lake accidentally opened the dam, releasing the poison into Belleville Lake killing thousands more fish.

Over 400 tons of fish died in the two lakes. The day after the Belleville Lake kill, an embarrassed DNR put a short-term ban on the use of rotenone. Ironically Ford Lake has a thriving carp population today, showing that this fish is not so easily removed from a lake.

1931: The first recreational trout licenses were required ($1.75 for adults), and the first catch limits – 15 brown and 15 rainbow trout per day.

1935: People using dynamite on fish were given tickets with high fines, from $100 to $300, and/or jail time from 90 to 120 days.
1939: Catch limits were placed on Great Lakes smallmouth bass-10 fish per day.
1945: Tougher catch limits were placed on trout (15 fish or 10 pounds), and limits were placed on pan fish (25 per day).
1955: Snagging fish was deemed illegal.
1959: Size limits were placed on pike, (20 inches)
1964: “Trout streams” Were designated, giving special restrictions on lures, catch limits, and size limits.
1965: The brook trout became the state fish of Michigan.