The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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February 9, 2013

Cross column: Lack of snow a boon for local fish

— The past several months haven’t been exactly the winter that wasn’t.

Unlike the unusually warm, open winter of 2011-12, there have been enough of those bone-chilling, sub-zero days this year to remind us that we indeed live in Minnesota rather than Missouri.

Understandably, snowmobile enthusiasts and cross-country skiers might regard the lack of snow so far this winter as a negative. But those of us who have yet to refill the gas tanks of our snow blowers aren’t complaining.

And with most area lakes going into the winter at extremely low levels, the result of months of drought, the lack of snow has been a blessing for fish populations.

During the winter of 2010-11 when snow came early and often, many shallow southern Minnesota lakes experienced fish die-offs from low oxygen levels.

But the lack of any significant snow so far this winter makes the chance of winterkill on area lakes remote, said TJ DeBates, supervisor at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Fisheries office in Waterville.

“Even though the water levels on area lakes are extremely low, all of the lakes we tested are at super-saturated oxygen levels,” he said. “With very little snow on the ice, the curly-leafed pondweed has continued to grow, creating photosynthesis, which produces oxygen.”

The downside is that unlike two years ago when heavy snow early on and throughout the winter shut off sunlight and prevented aquatic plants, including curly-leafed pondweed, from growing, this year the invasive species probably will have a head start this spring over more desirable native species.

The combination of low water and a dense mat of curly-leafed pondweed could present challenges early on for boaters.

The low water and continued dry conditions could have some effect on fish populations in the future, as well.

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