The herpes outbreak in Storm Lake in northwest Iowa, which has killed thousands of carp in recent weeks, has posed a thorny problem for city leaders: how to clear the shoreline of carcasses of rotting fish?
The most effective way to hasten decomposition would be to put them back in the water, but that would offend the eyes and noses of residents who use the lake for fishing, swimming and sunbathing.
They could have moved the dead fish and composted them elsewhere, but that would require a permit.
So early Friday morning, city utility workers spent more than five hours picking up the bodies into a large trailer that took them to the local dump.
“We very much appreciate their hard work,” said Keri Navratil, City Manager of Storm Lake.
The problems began about two weeks ago when reports of large numbers of dead young carp led the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to investigate. Ben Wallace, a fisheries biologist, quickly suspected disease was the culprit as other species of fish did not appear to be affected. Tests confirmed it was the koi herpes virus – the first time it has been detected in Iowa.
The virus attacks the gills of carp and is highly contagious and deadly, although it is not expected to eradicate the entire population of carp in Storm Lake. Yet it could be weeks before the fish stop dying.
“They didn’t teach us any of that,” Navratil said of his studies in city management. “I didn’t even know fish had herpes.”
Some residents took matters into their own hands by throwing the carcasses in the trash or in nearby fields or burying them, the Storm Lake Times Pilot reported.
Considering the amount of tourism and recreation the lake supports — it’s the fourth largest natural lake in Iowa and a decent walleye fishery — the dump was the best option for carp disposal, Navratil said.
The dead fish were taken to the Buena Vista County Recycling Center, where they were landfilled with other waste.
Lori Dicks, the center’s manager, said the fish’s total weight was around 1,600 pounds.
“It looks like a lot of fish – and in numbers it’s a lot of fish – but it’s not a lot of trash overall,” she said.