Fish Kills in Alaska and Indiana Make Headlines

Dead Catfish in Portage, Indiana near Lake Michigan      Photo: John Luke, AP

As the summer fishing season comes to a close, two recent stories of fish kills made headlines in Alaska and Michigan.  CNN reports that In Alaska, the historic heatwave there is, according to scientists, resulting in the death of at least a thousand salmon because they had to swim through water that was too warm — the die-offs include several varieties of Alaskan salmon, including sockeye, chum and pink salmon — and are an added threat to populations of these commercially valuable fish.  Meanwhile, in the Little Calumet River that flows into Lake Michigan, The Washington Post reported that thousands of fish died because of a spill of cyanide and ammonia at an industrial plant in mid-August and state officials had no idea how much of the chemicals spilled into the lake before they learned of it.

Why This Matters:  Our rivers and streams, and the wildlife in them, are not as clean and healthy as much of the public believes.  Spills happen and public authorities are not notified more often than we know — and that puts the public at risk. The newest National Park, Indiana Dunes National Park on Lake Michigan, had to close the Portage Lakefront and parts of the Little Calumet River for nearly a week. Similarly, climate change is causing dramatic changes in Alaska that could negatively impact the largest commercial wild salmon fishery in the world.  These water health problems have not only health but also economic impacts on the surrounding communities that depend on them now and possibly even for years to come.

Alaska Fish Die-Off

Climate change is only one of a number of threats to salmon populations, including overfishing and mining — the Environmental Protection Agency told staff scientists several weeks ago that the agency would no longer oppose the controversial Pebble Mine project that has the potential to devastate these same salmon populations.

Lake Michigan Spill

Because of the lag in public notice of the spill, people continued to play and swim in the waters of Lake Michigan at the National Park for several days, even as thousands of fish were dying in the tributary nearby.

  • According to The Post, the spill came from ArcelorMittal, a Luxembourg-based steel and mining company located upstream from Lake Michigan on the Little Calumet.
  • ArcelorMittal said in a statement that a “failure at the blast furnace water recirculation system” caused water laced with cyanide and ammonia to flow from the facility into the river and out into Lake Michigan.

To Go Deeper: Watch a CNN meteorologist explain the salmon dieoff.

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