Schell City, Mo. – Shallow water conditions at a lake being drained for major renovations prompted a fish kill at Schell Lake on June 18, Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) fisheries biologists say. But almost all of the several thousand fish affected are non-native, invasive common carp or grass carp, fish that will not be stocked when the lake is eventually refilled at the Schell-Osage Conservation Area in Vernon County. Schell Lake is being drained dry in June for construction projects in the next few years that will improve water control structures, wetlands, waterfowl habitat, and the fishery at the lake.
MDC staff began draining the lake on June 1 and it is expected to be emptied by July 1. Many live fish in the lake were released into the Osage River at the upper end of Truman Lake. MDC expected some fish to be stranded in pools due to uneven terrain on the lake bottom and shallow water conditions. An emergency fish salvage order began on June 15 and lasts until June 30. It allows anglers to use alternative methods at Schell Lake to collect fish such as seining, dip net, gigs, and bowfishing. However, during this time, anglers must still abide by other statewide regulations including daily and possession creel limits.
Anglers have successfully salvaged live fish from the lake since June 15.
All boating is now prohibited at Schell Lake. Starting July 1, fishing of any kind will be prohibited until lake renovations are complete and fish stockings have restored fish populations.
A fish kill was expected as the lake drained, though it has occurred faster than anticipated, said Mike Allen, MDC fisheries management biologist. The incident does have an upside. Carp species are considered an invasive fish. The fish kill will keep several thousand of them from moving into the Osage River and Truman Lake.
MDC is slowly releasing water from Schell Lake to keep warm water with low oxygen levels due to shallow conditions from harming water quality downstream. The dead fish are expected to be stranded in the lake basin. Hot weather conditions will hasten decomposition.
Draining the lake is an early step in planned renovations to Schell Lake and adjacent wetlands. Some levees will be reconfigured to reduce long-term flood damages and a pump station will be added for wetlands. The construction will enable changes that improve conditions in marshes for wildlife and for the fishery in Schell Lake.
All or portions of the wetlands connected to Schell Lake, including waterfowl hunting areas, will be closed once construction begins until completion of the project. Schell Lake will be closed to fishing three to five years. The construction project is expected to take at least two years but weather conditions and flooding may affect this timeline. It will take several more years for fish to be stocked and grow into a population strong enough for a sustainable fishery.
The upland areas, Atkinson Lake, and ponds at Schell-Osage will remain open to normal birding, hiking, hunting, and fishing activities during the project.
MDC for several years has studied long-term challenges for wetland management at Schell-Osage. In 2004, MDC kicked off a Golden Anniversary Wetlands Initiative to make improvements on the state’s five oldest wetland management areas. Schell-Osage is the last wetland on the list to receive renovations.
Outdoor enthusiasts can follow plans and work progress via a web page that will be periodically updated by MDC staff. Also, those interested in the project can sign up for updates via email by visiting https://short.mdc.mo.gov/Zqu.