Gizzard shad

Dead gizzard shad float near the shoreline at Shawnee State Park near the boat launch area on Tuesday.

SCHELLSBURG — The disturbing sight of a large number of dead fish floating along the shore at Shawnee State Park is part of the natural life cycle of the species, sources explained.

“This happens every year,” said Jared Fencil, park manager.

Fencil explained that the gizzard shad, an abundant species at Shawnee Lake, “don’t handle the temperatures well.”

A number of people had called the park office, and he said that’s not unusual, either.

“Any time people see large numbers of dead fish, it’s a concern,” he said.

Many state agencies, including the Fish and Boat Commission, are working with reduced staffing because of the coronavirus situation, and a telephone call to the Southcentral Region office in Newville went unanswered, but the commission’s website explains that, “winter die-offs are not uncommon. Winter die-offs are associated with temperature stress.”

As disconcerting as the dead fish may be, it’s not indicative of pollution or any other problem at the lake, Fencil said.

“All of our other species are doing very well,” Fencil said.

Indeed, although conditions Tuesday were chilly and cloudy, there were plenty of anglers trying their luck at the lake. Fencil said that was normal, and fishing has been good all winter, with only a few days where ice prevented boaters from getting out on the lake.

The gizzard shad is a member of the herring family, the PFBC website explains. It’s noted for its gizzard-like stomach and a distinctive dorsal fin. The young grow rapidly and can reach a maximum size of about 20 inches.

The species is found mainly in the Ohio River watershed and Lake Erie, the commission’s website said, but because of intentional and unintentional stocking is found across Pennsylvania.

The name of the species is appropriate, since gizzard shad feed on plants and organic deposits from the bottom of the waterway, and the material is ground in a gizzard-like stomach, the PFBC website says.

Contact Paul Rowan at prowan@bedfordgazette.com, 623-1151, ext. 140.

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