MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

July 16, 2014

Fish kill linked to contest

Wildlife official blames deaths of 60 bass on summer heat

A bass tournament this past weekend left more than 60 black bass lying dead along the banks of the Arkansas River near Three Forks Harbor.

The event was sponsored by Fishers of Men, a Christian-based organization that sponsors numerous bass tournaments. Fifty-three teams competing in the FOM Legend Division tournament reeled in 182 fish, more than a third of which died after they were released Saturday.

Jim Burroughs, regional fisheries supervisor for the Oklahoma Wildlife Department, attributed the fish kill to hot weather. Based upon information provided by tournament organizers, he said it appears the protocol for handling the fish caught by contestants and tournament organizers was proper.

“We couldn’t find any one thing ... that shouldn’t have been done other than holding them in a boat for a long time on a hot weekend,” Burroughs said. “I am chalking it up mostly to the heat: We don’t recommend having bass tournaments in the middle of summer.”

Post-tournament mortality is a problem during the summer months, Burroughs said. But Bryan Davis, a co-owner of the FOM Legends tournaments, said the fish kill over the weekend was the first he has seen.

Davis, who lives near Dallas, said the organization is careful with fish caught during FOM-sponsored tournaments. He said FOM’s protocol employs a 1,200-gallon, double-walled holding tank with continuous circulation of cooled, oxygenated water.

All but one of the 182 fish caught Saturday were released alive at the end of the one-day tournament. Davis, who watched the fish swim away and waited for about 20 minutes before leaving the area, said he was “dumbfounded’ upon learning the dead fish had washed up near the boat ramp.

“This is what I do for a living, so I don’t take this lightly,” Davis said.

Davis said he has organized more than 250 tournaments and never seen anything like this happen.

“We go above and beyond what the expectations are and have never seen anything like this issue before,” Davis said. “Everybody is dumbfounded, especially since they were released on the river side where there was a pretty strong current.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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