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Fish Kill Comes At Bad Time For Fishing Mecca

September 20, 1988

OSWEGO, N.Y. (AP) _ Crews repairing a dam accidentally killed thousands of fish by reducing the flow into the Oswego River, and anglers here for the fishing season are being assaulted by the stench of rotting salmon and trout.

″I didn’t know what to think. Everywhere you walked there was dead fish,″ said Edward Hill of Trevose, Pa., one of the thousands of fishermen who come to this Lake Ontario city each fall.

The fish were killed Wednesday when a Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. crew decided to do some work on a dam, and reduced the flow of water in the river, officials said. That left thousands of big fish, about 3 feet long and 20-30 pounds, stranded in shallow pools or flopping on rocks.

″They (the utility) could not have picked a worse time to do this,″ Cliff Creech, regional fisheries manager for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said Monday. ″I would say a substantial portion of the fall salmon run has been wiped out.″

Each fall, from Labor Day to mid-October, Chinook and Coho salmon and rainbow and brown trout swim out of Lake Ontario and up the Oswego River to spawn. Unless they’re caught, they die shortly after laying their eggs in the river.

Creech said he believes the fish kill will be a major blow for the area, which takes in an estimated $150 million from fishing each year.

For the first weekend alone, from Sept. 10-11, 2,500 anglers showed up.

″The season continues into October,″ Creech said from his office in Cortland. ″Don’t you think that some guy who hears about this is going to go somewhere else or do something else?″

Nigel Ciurleo, who runs Bare Bones Bait & Tackle Shop up the road from the fish kill, said it’s too early to tell what kind of effect it will have on business.

″All I know is that there’s 3,000 fish or whatever that nobody’s going to catch and that’s got to have some kind of impact,″ Ciurleo said.

The utility agreed to start cleaning up the rotting fish today, said Niagara Mohawk spokesman Bill Romano.

Romano said the utility had been trying to install wooden structures on top of Varick Dam, one of six on the Oswego, to better control water flow over the dam.

In doing the work, crews allowed the part of the river in front of the dam to drain, Romano said.

Many of the discolored fish washed into the Oswego Eastside Marina, surrounding expensive yachts and floating under the docks.

″It’s a travesty,″ said Connell Raate, a charter boat operator at the marina. ″This is going to prove to be an economic disaster for the city.

″It smells like a sewer. You’re not going to want to fish or use your boat with that kind of stink,″ Raate said.

Eli Rapaport, a spokesman for Mayor John Sullivan, said he didn’t think it was fair to characterize the dead fish as a major blow to Oswego’s tourism.

″You should have been here yesterday when we had fishermen shoulder-to- shoul der pulling up live fighting salmon out of the river,″ Rapaport said. ″I don’t think we’ll suffer any economic hardship.″