By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer
Dead catfish have washed up on the shores of Ute Lake a week after 900 fish were killed by an underwater blast for the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Utility Authority’s pipeline project.
“We had fishermen coming into the shop and asking us why the fish were dead and was it safe to eat the fish they caught,” said Juan Franco at Minnow Ranch bait shop in Logan.
Franco said on Saturday campers and fishermen at Ute Lake State Park began asking about the cause of the dead catfish that were scattered along the shoreline near the dam.
“I told them we had an explosion a week ago that killed 900 fish, though they were still concerned that something may be wrong with the fish and were afraid to eat them,” Franco said.
There has been no presence from the New Mexico Game and Fish Department on either of these incidents involving dead fish at Ute Lake, said T.J. Smith, Logan/Ute Lake Chamber of Commerce president.
Smith said he walked the shores near the dam on Saturday and Sunday and observed 45 dead fish, mostly catfish, though there were walleye, carp and bass as well. He said to his knowledge no one from the game and fish department has collected samples of the dead fish to determine if they were killed as a result of the blast or by other means.
Smith said there is a growing concern among the residents that lack of notification and publication of the underwater blast and fish killed as a result of it will affect tourism and recreation at Ute Lake. He said there is also been no reassurance from game and fish the latest fish are dead as a result of the blast.
“I believe these fish were killed during the blast, though I have no conclusive evidence from any state agency to confirm that,” Smith said. “How many dead fish washing up on shore does it take before the Game and Fish Department sends someone out to see what is happening.”
Smith said the state department has a person at the main park entrance who is checking boats attempting to prevent the spread of aggressive muscles and other invasive species at the lake, but they seem to be turning a blind eye to the indigenous species being killed.
There will be someone visiting Ute Lake to exam this situation though the extent of their examination is not known at this time, said Rachel Shockley, game and fish spokesperson.
Shockley said there is no biological evidence showing the dead fish washing up on shore were killed as a result of the blast, that a department biologist has said it is not impossible thought it most likely not probable.
According to Shockley, the biologist said there is no reason for concern for a small number of fish being reported dead; those fish could have been killed by a number of different things including a gas spill or lightning strike.
Earlier in the month, game and fish released thousands of bass into Ute Lake as part of their stocking initiative two days prior to the underwater blast.
Casey Hawthorne, warm water fishery biologist, said to the best of his knowledge no bass were stocked near the blast area. He said the area surrounding the blast area and construction zone is not an ideal habitat for the bass.