TUPELO • A bad batch of fish delivered for a children’s fishing rodeo will cause problems for Tupelo Parks & Recreation for months to come.
According to Parks & Rec director Alex Farned, the city contracted with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to supply fish for the April 19 rodeo. The state department contracted with a third party to deliver catfish to fishing rodeos across the state.
“Sometimes the lowest bid is not the best bid,” Farned said. “They ended up giving us sick fish.”
For the fishing rodeo, the park usually gets 1,500 or more catfish delivered to the back lake (the more northern one) at the east Tupelo park. Orders of 1,000 fish or more are normally delivered in two trucks.
“This time, they delivered 1,700 fish in only one truck,” Farned said. “I don’t know how far they rode to get here, but they were oxygen deprived. They were so packed in there they were scarring each other.
“On top of that, they had a bacterial infection – one that can only be passed from catfish to other catfish.”
The bacteria cannot be transferred to humans. Any fish caught during the rodeo are fine to eat when cooked properly. But that won’t be much of a problem. Barely any of the 300-plus kids who showed up for the fishing rodeo Friday evening caught anything.
The fish were delivered to the lake on Wednesday, April 17, two days before the rodeo. That is standard procedure to allow the fish time to acclimate before the fishing starts.
But fish started dying and floating to the surface on Thursday. A fish biologist from MDWFP was able to identify the bacteria before the rodeo and the fishers were notified of the situation.
“We skimmed out 150 fish Friday using nets and a Jon boat,” Farned said. “On Saturday or Sunday, we had another 950 float to the top. We had to dig a pit to bury all of them.”
Officials expect the bacteria to kill the remaining catfish in the lake within the next week or so. Since it only affects catfish, it should not harm the population of other species in the lake, like bream or crappie. Farned said it looks like the infection is contained to the one lake, even though the two lakes are connected by culverts.
The city will have to wait and see how much damage has been caused and when the catfish can be reintroduced to the lake.
“We will have to wait until the lake is clear,” Farned said. “Once we know all the bacteria is gone, we can start looking at returning the catfish. The state (MDWFP) has said they will help restore the catfish population.”
At this point, Farned is not sure if full-sized adult catfish will be used to repopulate the lake.
“It’s been an ordeal. It really stinks,” Farned said.