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Fish kill on Ferndale lake being investigated

Dead fish found along the shore of Agate Lake (September 19, 2020). Photo: Courtesy of a reader
Dead fish found along the shore of Agate Lake (September 19, 2020). Photo: Courtesy of a reader

FERNDALE, Wash. — Agate Lake is a small spring-fed man-made lake on the Sandy Point peninsula surrounded by about 20 residences. According to some of those residents, families frequently swim in and play on the water in Agate Lake. That is why some lakeside residents became concerned when they noticed hundreds of dead fish began showing up on the shore around the lake a couple weeks ago.

Agate Lake located on the Sandy Point peninsula

A lakeside resident told My Ferndale News (MFN) they access the lake daily and first noticed dead fish on the shore on September 18th. They continued to see and began removing hundreds of dead fish along the section of the shore on their property over the next couple days.

Dead fish recovered from the shore of Agate Lake (September 19, 2020). Photo: Courtesy of a reader
Dead fish recovered from the shore of Agate Lake (September 19, 2020). Photo: Courtesy of a reader

The lake, roughly 1200-feet long by 140- to 350-feet wide, and most of the surrounding properties are within the Sandy Point Improvement Co.’s (SPIC) area which, according to its articles of incorporation, is where it operates and maintains real property to provide use and enjoyment by the shareholders who are owners and residents of property in the area. Property owners pay an annual assessment to SPIC for these services.

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Residents notified SPIC of what they were seeing and were informed no treatments had been applied to the lake to account for the impacts to the fish. During a September 26th annual membership meeting, SPIC officials informed members they had hired 2 companies to test samples of lake water and fish from the lake.

SPIC contracts with a company to manage algae in Agate Lake according to SPIC Board President Pat Malara. “They have not been out to the lake in a while so we have no idea as to what may be responsible [for the fish kill],” he said during a phone interview. It will not be until mid-October before their water sample test results will be ready, he said.

On September 30th, a warning for people and animals to stay out of Agate Lake was posted on the SPIC website. That warning is being provided “out of an abundance of caution,” Malara said. The advisory is expected to remain at least until they get the water sample test results.

“A bunch of fish died in Agate Lake back in the 1990s and again about 3 years ago,” Malara said. “We were not able to determine why they died since nothing was wrong with the water when tested then. These things happen a lot and sometimes it is due to heat, lack of oxygen, acidity – there are lots of naturally occurring reasons for fish to die.” He added that the spring that feeds the lake was initially determined to be brackish when the lake was built. “Nothing was expected to survive in it initially,” he said.

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After being asked about the fish kill incident by MFN, Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) Communications Manager Larry Altose said in an email that Ecology had been alerted to the situation on September 30th. They had followed up with a resident that day regarding the fish kill and also about some waterfowl health concerns.

The resident, Altose said, had captured a goose that appeared sickly and took it to the Whatcom Humane Society (WHS). The goose arrived at the WHS wildlife rehabilitation center in critical condition and died before any diagnostics were able to be taken, according to WHS Executive Director Laura Clark. The goose was brought in September 24th, “emaciated and dehydrated, had pressure sores on his feet, had keel lesions, and was extremely neurologic,” Clark said in an email. “They cannot say that it is related to the [fish] die off at this point,” she added.

Agate Lake as seen from Thetis Street (September 30, 2020). Photo: My Ferndale News
Agate Lake as seen from Thetis Street (September 30, 2020). Photo: My Ferndale News

In addition to the goose, the same resident noted seagulls in the area were behaving as if intoxicated according to Altose. The resident recovered a seagull carcass after it had been struck and killed by a car and turned it over to the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW). The seagull carcass arrived at WHS today, October 1st, where it will undergo tests according to Clark.

A resident who is a Whatcom County employee took water samples to the county’s lab, Altose said. As of the publication of this story, they were awaiting those test results.

Altose noted there have been no other reports of fish kills in the area and the fish in Agate Lake are game fish that have been stocked as it does not have a native population.

The lake first appears in part in a 1966 aerial photo and then in its entirety in a 1976 aerial photo. A “bubbler” was installed several years ago in the middle of the south end of the lake “to keep the water moving” according to Malara. This year, 2 decorative fountains were installed by residents with assistance from SPIC, he said.

  • Section of a 1966 aerial photo. Source: Whatcom County
  • Section of a 1976 aerial photo. Source: Whatcom County

Officials with WDFW did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.

MFN will continue to monitor this story and will provide updates as test results are released.

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