Wiper bass may replace stripers in Lake Norman
by Staff Writer
by Lauren Dunn
HUNTERSVILLE – After hundreds of dead striped bass floated to the surface Lake Norman recently, state wildlife officials said this week they are considering eliminating the striped bass, one of the more popular fish with Lake Norman anglers.
Officials want to replacing the bass with a fish that is more resilient to the effect of high temperatures.
Earlier this month, more than 350 striped bass died in the lake as high temperatures depleted oxygen levels in the water. This is the fourth major fish kill since 2004 and the third since 2009. Last year, wildlife officials counted 7,000 dead, seriously depleting the lake’s stock.
“We have had three fish kills in a row,” said Brian McRae, of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “Three fish kills are not a good thing by any stretch of the imagination, so now we will evaluate how we can limit these kills in the future.”
The problem is the heat.
“Typically what happens out there is that in the summer the striped bass go to the deep part of the lake,” McRae said. “As the summer progresses, the lake changes. It kind of gets these three separate layers in the reservoir – upper, middle and lower layers.”
The striped bass will go down to that lower layer, but as the water heats, that middle layer will lose oxygen, McRae said.
That middle layer ultimately acts as a lid for the trapped fish in the lower layer, which eventually looses oxygen as well.
“Some years they can get out and escape that lower layer and get up to the upper layer, and some years they can’t,” McRae said. “That’s what has happened the last three years.”
Fisherman in the area also face a dilemma. As the only regularly stocked fish in the lake, at 162,500 added annually, striped bass are a favorite, but some are questioning if the environment at Lake Norman is sustainable to the bass.
“Most fishers have written stripers off because there’s not very many left in the lake,” said Capt. Gus Gustafson, a well known fishing guide and columnist for the Herald Weekly. “We’ve switched our priorities. Is there some way to prevent (the kills)? Yes. Is anybody doing anything about it? Not really.”
The wildlife commission is now considering wiper bass – a hybrid fish that is a mix of white and striped bass.
The hybrid bass reportedly can tolerate higher water temperatures than striped bass, but state officials still don’t know if they will suffer the same fate.
Other issues with the hybrids arise from cost and production capabilities.
Currently, only 40,000 hybrid bass are stocked in North Carolina. To stock Lake Norman with the hybrids would mean producing almost three times that amount. And officials are not sure what that would cost.
Whichever route is taken, Gustafson feels certain fishing on Lake Norman will remain strong since it is a major source of tourism.
“We don’t want people thinking the fish in our lakes our dead because they’re not,” Gustafson said. “It’s devastating, but everything else is great. Today, we’ve caught over 100 fish.
“So, fishing is fine.”