Storm Lake hauls 1,600 pounds of dead carp to landfill

By: - August 9, 2022 3:49 pm

Dead carp litter the shore at Storm Lake after being killed by koi herpes virus. (Photo by Jake Kurtz/Storm Lake Times Pilot)

The herpes outbreak at Storm Lake in northwest Iowa that has killed thousands of carp in recent weeks resulted in a pungent problem for city leaders: How would they rid the shoreline of rotting fish carcasses?

The most efficient way to expedite the decay would involve shoving them back into the water, but that would offend the eyes and noses of residents who use the lake for fishing, swimming and sunbathing.

They could have moved the dead fish and composted them elsewhere, but that would require a permit.

So early Friday morning, the city’s public service workers spent more than five hours collecting the bodies in a large trailer that hauled them to the local landfill.

“We’re very appreciative of their hard work,” said Keri Navratil, the city manager for Storm Lake.

The problems began about two weeks ago when reports of large numbers of young, dead carp led the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to investigate. Ben Wallace, a fisheries biologist, quickly suspected a disease was the culprit because other fish species didn’t appear to be affected. Tests confirmed it was the koi herpes virus — the first time it’s been detected in Iowa.

The virus attacks the carps’ gills and is highly contagious and deadly, although it’s not expected to eradicate the entire carp population of Storm Lake. Still, it could be weeks before the fish stop dying.

“They didn’t teach us any of this stuff,” Navratil said of her studies of managing a city. “I didn’t even know fish got herpes.”

Some residents took matters into their own hands by tossing the carcasses in the trash or nearby fields or burying them, the Storm Lake Times Pilot reported.

Given the amount of tourism and recreation the lake supports — it’s the fourth-largest natural lake in Iowa and sports decent walleye fishing — the landfill was the best option for carp disposal, Navratil said.

The dead fish were taken to the Buena Vista County Recycle Center, where they were put in the landfill with other trash.

Lori Dicks, the center’s manager, said the total weight of the fish was about 1,600 pounds.

“It sounds like a lot of fish — and in numbers it’s a lot of fish — but it’s not a lot of waste in general,” she said.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.