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On September 21st one hundred tons of a fish poison will be dumped into Diamond Lake, Ore., and it is expected that within 24 hours not a gill-breathing creature will have survived. The target of the operation, the undesirable fish which compete with the game species for food, will be eradicated along with their sporting brethren. When the lake is cleared, it will be restocked with game fish only, and another fisherman's paradise will have been preserved.
Operation Eradication has already been well publicized in the West. The story that hasn't been told is how the fish poisons work. They have been developed to the point where they can be applied with a finesse that is amazing.
LETHAL TO THE OUNCE
Probably the most modern is Fish-Tox, which contains rotenone—a fish poison which man has known for centuries. Rotenone is an ingredient of most lake eradicants. Its lethal qualities are so certain that dosages can be figured to the ounce.
Fish-Tox is a soluble powder which forms a whitish cloud in the water, then quickly clears. It has a vertical rate of dispersion of one and a half feet an hour. In other words, a curtain of death descends in the water at the rate of 18 inches an hour. Nothing with gills can escape, nothing with lungs will be harmed.
Fish-Tox kills by constricting the capillaries which carry oxygen from the gills, causing suffocation. The fish thus killed are perfectly edible. The water is safe for people to drink.
When the poison begins to dissolve, minnows are the first to feel it. They shoot out of the water, dance crazily on the surface, even sail out on the beach. Other fish have varying degrees of resistance. Walleyed pike die easily; so do bass, perch, bluegills, crappies and the carp which are so often the reason for the eradication. Bullheads and catfish last longer, but they only postpone the inevitable. As the invisible veil of poison sinks, it pins the fish against the oxygen-thin layer of lower water. When the fish try to shoot up through the Fish-Tox, it gets them.
Fish poisoning is not pretty, but the gain to sports fishing is tremendous. A trout lake in Washington, for example, which yielded only 1,000 fish a year because it was full of "trash" fish, was cleaned out completely and restocked. Two years later it was opened and yielded 5,460 half-pound rainbow trout the first day, and more than 56,000 rainbows during the first year.
In North Dakota, Storm Creek Reservoir, which formerly provided good fishing for bass and crappies, was taken over by carp. Eradicated by Fish-Tox and restocked with bass, pike and blue-gills, it now has excellent sport fishing. A surprise sideline benefit was noted by a farmer's wife who rejoiced that the lake water was clear enough to wash clothes in, now that bottom-rooting carp had been eliminated.
The Bureau of Reclamation built Jamestown Dam, forming a 20-mile-long lake in the James River. Silt-laden, shallow and full of "rough" fish, it had never been considered even a fair sport-fishing river. Before the dam was closed, North Dakota began the most ambitious eradication project yet attempted. Eighty-six miles of river, three lakes and countless sloughs that connected with the river were treated. Fish-Tox was spread from low-flying planes, towed behind motor-boats in burlap sacks, sprayed with hand pumps into marshy areas. Then came anxious days of test netting to check the effects of the application. The poison killed every gill breather in the entire river. Now restocked, the Jamestown Reservoir will provide sport fishing.