As the cover of ice and snow over the pond has been melting the last few days I have noticed what looked like dead fish beneath the ice. Today about half of the pond was ice free and I could see dead fish floating on the surface. I walked along the shore for a closer look. It's worse than I thought. The long and cold winter has taken it's toll. I'm guessing that the water was depleted of oxygen as the ice cover persisted into March.
With a rake and 5 gallon bucket in hand I walked the shore and collected fish. From the other side of the pond I could see hundreds of bluegill sunfish trapped under what remained of the ice. Some of the fish in open water that drifted into shore had already been eaten by animals. I pulled out about ten channel catfish, some of them must have weighed 4 to 5 pounds. Each one would have made some nice dinners.
Most of the catfish were taken into the field next to my property and scattered around. The lot is in the process of succession, populated with small trees, bushes and tall weeds. Vultures and raccoons should finish them off. There may be several hundred pounds of dead fish in the pond and I don't want them to decompose in the water. That may cause a spike in the turtle population or cause an algae bloom. So I'll have to keep removing them as they float toward shore.
I collected one bucket of fish for the compost heap. I hadn't planned on turning the heap at this time but wanted to make use of the fish. The top module was set to the side, to the left, and the unfinished compost, mostly shredded leaves was shoveled from the old pile into the module. After adding a few inches of leaves I put in a few fish and watered the layer, then repeated the process. The leaves haven't decomposed much at all because of the cold winter and also because I did not put enough water on them. In the picture below the new heap is two modules high and there are some fish on top..
When I reached the last module the compost was like, well, compost, not shredded leaves so I stopped for the day. In a few weeks this compost will go into the beds that get planted first. There's probably just enough to add to the brassica bed.
I'm hoping the turned over compost heap will become a hot pile. I've found that fish entrails can really charge up a pile, but with this many fish in it may stink to high heaven if it doesn't get sufficient air. If the pile gets really hot it's possible that the compost will finish in about a month and can be put into the beds for summer crops like squash and tomatoes. It should be some very rich compost when it is ready.
As for the fish, I won't know if this was a total kill for a few more weeks. If it was I'll have to restock the pond. I'm hoping that some survived.