Survey of a Fish Graveyard

Bob McDaris, the marina owner who coordinated the recent fish rescue at Prospect Island in the California Delta, didn’t observe any remaining live fish in the area where volunteers saved thousands of striped bass, bluegill, black bass, Sacramento blackfish, Sacramento splittail and threadfin shad from November 30 through December 2.

John Soto, a local hay farmer, and McDaris returned to the island today in an airboat with Spencer Larson, DFG biologist. The rescue was suspended on December 2 after the water level became too high for volunteers to continue safely rescuing the thousands of striped bass and other fish stranded on the island.

“We didn’t see one fish, although I did see one swirl,” said McDaris. “We saw thousands of dead carp, many weighing around 20 to 25 pounds.”

McDaris said he was depressed about today’s results until he contacted Mike Chotkowski, Bureau of Reclamation biologist, who suggested that the fish that were holding in this area may have moved down to the south end of the island. The Bureau installed an aerator near the pump on the south end to improve the water quality.

Meanwhile, McDaris and Bureau and DFG biologists are planning to electro-shock the island’s south end where deeper water, 4 to 6 feet deep, is located. If substantial numbers of fish are located, McDaris will organize another fish rescue.

The Prospect Island fish kill, one of the worst environmental disasters of its kind in California history, occurred after a contractor for the Bureau of Reclamation pumped out the water from the island as it repaired a levee. McDaris and Soto discovered tens of thousands of dead and dying fish on the island when scouting the island for ducks on November 19.

The Prospect Island Fish Kill was the subject of a hearing by Lois Wolk, chair of the Assembly Committee on Parks and Wildlife, last Thursday. Wolk blasted the state and federal agencies for their lack of coordination and late response to the fish die off. Based on the testimony she heard from the agency and fishery group representatives on Thursday, Wolk said that a single Delta oversight panel needs to be formed to stop fish kills like this one from happening in the future.

The Department of Fish and Game is doing a criminal investigation of the fishery disaster. Jim Martin, West Coast Regional Director of the Recreational Fishing alliance, has also made a Freedom of Information Acti request of the Bureau to release its correspondence and emails regarding the the events that led to theh fish kill.

DAN BACHER can be reached at:



Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher