The lagoon in Chicago's McKinley Park again offers fishing and recreation after clean-up from a seasonal fish kill.

Temperature Swing, Restocking Cause Lagoon Fish Kill

Published June 14, 2020

A fish kill event, noted in the middle of last week at Chicago's McKinley Park lagoon, resulted in thousands of dead fish floating on the water. Large temperature swings from changing weather, restocking the lagoon and low oxygen caused the fish kill, McKinley Park Supervisor Briana Soria said, passing along the determination of the Chicago Park District's Department of Cultural and Natural Resources, which manages park land and natural areas.

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Residents reported the fish kill once it was noticed mid-week, and Cultural and Natural Resources staff started cleaning up the lagoon on Friday morning. By the weekend, the lagoon had been returned to normal, and many anglers were back, seeking to hook a fish.

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McKinley Park resident John Belcik, a local ichthyologist (or "fish scientist") with advanced degrees in biology and employment as a staff biologist and ecologist for the Chicago District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said that fish kills are not uncommon.

Same As Two Years Ago

"I will say that a fish kill happens every year, sometimes twice, so that part is normal," Belcik wrote to a private neighborhood discussion group. "The fish kill is likely just an above-average fish kill that happens every year when the water in the lagoon gets flipped when the temperature swings drastically."

"This happened two years ago after they drained the lagoon and filled it, but didn't turn the bubblers on in time, and thousands of fish died," Belcik wrote. "They have been stocking the lagoon more often, so there's more fish present already that could have been affected."

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Catch and Release Only

Soria noted that all fish in the lagoon are property of the Chicago Park District and that the catch-and-release policy at the lagoon allows continued enjoyment of the local fishing hole. 

The lagoon at McKinley Park has remained one of Chicago's most-beloved and accessible fishing spots, and has enjoyed the return of an annual kids fishing derby, now organized by local attorney Steve Demitro. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not yet known whether this annual event will occur in September as normally scheduled.

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