Adult striped bass and non-native blueback herring have been dying at Lake Martin recently due to a depletion of adequate summertime habitat.

Increased rainfall this year has led to large quantities of water being flushed through the Martin Dam turbines. The increased turbine activity has removed the water layer required for these species to survive. The duration of this fish kill could last for several weeks. 

During summer in Alabama, most lakes experience stratification – the formation of distinct water layers. When stratification occurs, warmer, well-oxygenated water is located near the surface and colder, oxygen-void water is located deeper in the lake. 

“Striped bass cannot tolerate either extreme and attempt to locate an acceptable transitional depth with both cool water and adequate oxygen,” said Chris Greene, Assistant Fisheries Chief for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF). “If this layer of water is nonexistent, then fish mortalities are inevitable.” 

WFF fisheries biologists documented the depletion of this suitable layer at Lake Martin while investigating the recent fish kill.

Striped bass are native to Alabama, but due to the construction of dams on major waterways they can no longer successfully reproduce in most of their historical spawning locations. 

To maintain this fishery, WFF fisheries staff stock striped bass annually in water bodies such as Lake Martin.

Under ideal conditions, striped bass can attain extraordinary sizes. The current world record for landlocked striped bass is 69 pounds, 9 ounces caught in 2013 by James Bramlett in Alabama’s Bankhead Reservoir on the Black Warrior River. 

For striped bass to survive and attain these trophy sizes, the availability of suitable summertime habitat is likely the most important factor.

“We expect to see fish mortalities at Lake Martin cease once the lake begins to de-stratify and suitable habitat returns, which will likely occur sometime in October,” Greene said.

To learn more about Alabama’s freshwater fish and habitat, visit www.outdooralabama.com/freshwater-fishing.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com

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