Unparalleled heat and drought kills thousands of Midwest fish - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Unparalleled heat and drought kills thousands of Midwest fish

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The relentless summer heat and lack of rainfall has caused many rivers to dry up along with near 100 degree water temperatures. This has left thousands of Midwest fish dead.

About 40,000 shovelnose sturgeon were killed in Iowa last week as water temperatures reached 97 degrees. Nebraska fishery officials said they've seen thousands of dead sturgeon, catfish, carp, and other species in the Lower Platte River, including the endangered pallid sturgeon.

And biologists in Illinois said the hot weather has killed tens of thousands of large- and smallmouth bass and channel catfish and is threatening the population of the greater redhorse fish, a state-endangered species.

So many fish died in one Illinois lake that the carcasses clogged an intake screen near a power plant, lowering water levels to the point that the station had to shut down one of its generators.

The fish are victims of one of the driest and warmest summers in history. The federal U.S. Drought Monitor shows nearly two-thirds of the lower 48 states are experiencing some form of drought, and the Department of Agriculture has declared more than half of the nation's counties — nearly 1,600 in 32 states — as natural disaster areas.

More than 3,000 heat records were broken over the last month.

Iowa DNR officials said the sturgeon found dead in the Des Moines River were worth nearly $10 million, a high value based in part on their highly sought eggs, which are used for caviar. The fish are valued at more than $110 a pound.

Heavy rain last weekend improved some of Iowa's rivers and lakes, but temperatures were rising again and straining a sturgeon population that develops health problems when water temperatures climb into the 80s.

In Illinois, heat and lack of rain has dried up a large swath of Aux Sable Creek, the state's largest habitat for the endangered greater redhorse, a large bottom-feeding fish.

When it comes to game fish, the number killed is in the thousands, but when you factor in all kinds of fish, than number is in the millions.

In Nebraska, a stretch of the Platte River from Kearney in the central part of the state to Columbus in the east has gone dry and killed a "significant number" of sturgeon, catfish and minnows. The warm, shallow water has also killed an unknown number of endangered pallid sturgeon.

Kansas also has seen declining water levels that pulled younger, smaller game fish away from the vegetation-rich shore lines and forced them to cluster, making them easier targets for predators.

The forecast for the rest of the month of August is calling for warmer and drier conditions than normal. Courtesy of NOAA.

And with a developing El Nino in the equatorial Pacific, expect a drier than normal winter with below normal precipitation.

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