Hundreds of dead fish washed ashore in Lake DeSoto in Lake City this weekend, and the stench could be smelled blocks away.
People who use the popular lake were shocked and said they want to know what killed the fish.
“You could smell the rancid toxins of dead fish going back all the way to Madison Street,” Evan Leslie said.
Neighbors near Lake DeSoto sent photos to News4Jax of about 200 dead fish littering the shores of the lake, which is a popular walking spot near both the circuit court clerk and Columbia County tax collector's offices.
Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told News4Jax the dead fish are bass and bluegills, and that the fish kill is a natural phenomenon caused by too little oxygen in the water.
The first reports of dead fish in the lake came in over the weekend, officials said.
An FWC biologist saw fish at the surface of the water gasping for breath.
Although fish kills can cause alarm for residents, they are caused by natural patterns in the weather and environmental conditions. Those conditions involve water temperature, types of plants around the water, the fish themselves and bacteria from decomposing plants in the water.
“I understand their concern,” FWC spokeswoman Karen Parker said. “This is a very popular lake. People love this lake. They fish in it. They walk around it. I walk around on it, you know. So, I understand the concern. But what people also have to understand is we have fish kills all over the state of Florida.”
FWC officials urge residents not to take home any dead fish, but any live fish caught from the lake should not pose any health risk.
Lake City resident Kyle Green told News4Jax he organized a group to go clean up the dead fish, but after speaking with the mayor learned that the city sent inmates out to clean up the mess.
“It smelled like honestly somebody came in with a huge can of tuna and just opened it right in the middle of the lake,” said Green, who lives about 2 miles from the lake. “It was really bad. I drove by earlier as the prisoners were cleaning it all up and the smell was just excruciatingly horrible.”
Green said he's lived in Columbia County for 23 years and has never seen anything like the fish kill in Lake DeSoto.
“In Lake City, it’s such a small area. There’s not a lot of things for families to do, so when something like this happens in the community to something everybody enjoys going to, it’s really shocking,” Green said. “It made me think, 'What could have caused this?' It kind of alarmed me because we come out with our dogs sometimes and walk around the lake (with) our kids. It was just kind of nerve-racking.”
Despite reassurances from FWC scientists, some residents were concerned that dye recently put in the lake by Public Works might have harmed the fish.
“All it does is reflect the sunlight. It does not kill anything,” said Thomas Henry of Lake City Public Works. “It’s just a reflector from any future weed growth, but that’s all it is.”
Henry also said the spray many people have been worried about is environmentally friendly and placed along the shore to control plant growth.
FWC officials said fish kill months are May through September. To report fish kill incidents, go to myfwc.com/FishKill or call 800-636-0511.