One of the many dead sunfish at Beaver Lake which washed up on Gallien's Beach.

DERRY | About two dozen dead fish line the 100-foot-long swim area of Gallien's beach. Another three dozen are gathered in a cove on Pond Road.

The sight of dead fish in spots around Beaver Lake has concerned citizens asking why the fish are dying.

Though human contamination from herbicides and pesticides can be a cause for a "fish kill," it's more likely natural causes in this case because, largely, a single species is being affected, according to the Beaver Lake Improvement Association and a fish habitat biologist with the state.

"It's amazing, it's all sunfish," said Rob Tompkins, chairman of the Beaver Lake Improvement Association board of directors.

Tompkins said if all species in the lake were dying, that could mean pesticides and herbicides from residents' lawns were contaminating the water. But because it's nearly all sunfish and the occasional catfish affected, it's more likely the fish were stressed during spawning season. The weather, which has been fluctuating between warm, sunny days and cold, rainy days, also could be a factor, he said.

The lake association did a routine water quality test May 30 that showed no contamination in the lake, Tompkins said. The association does the voluntary tests monthly from May through September, he added.

Though he's seen fish kills in the past, Tompkins said this seems larger than usual.

"This is probably the worst I've seen it," he said.

Over the weekend, Tompkins received e-mail messages expressing concern about all the dead fish washing up on shores around the lake. He contacted the state Department of Environmental Services, which called on the state Fish and Game Department for answers.

Tompkins sent an e-mail to about 150 people on the Beaver Lake Improvement Association e-mail list with information from Fish and Game about the fish kill. But, he said, more people might see dead fish on the beaches and in coves around the lake.

John Magee, a fish habitat biologist with Fish and Game, said in the e-mail fish kills are common in New Hampshire at this time of year because it is spawning season for warm-water fish.

Magee was out of the office yesterday and unavailable for comment.

He called spawning an "energy intensive activity" and said the fish often don't eat for several weeks. Sunfish are in the middle of their spawning, he said, as are bullhead catfish.

"Sunfish males guard the nests and may not eat for a few weeks even though they have to constantly chase off predators," he wrote.

Magee noted a similar fish kill just happened in New Pond in Canterbury.

Meanwhile, the Derry Parks and Recreation Department is gearing up to open Gallien's Beach on June 16.

"I don't want people to think it's not safe," said Nicole Ferrante, who will be a supervisor at the town beach this summer.

Ferrante, who also serves as programs and operations assistant for the department, said the fish kill happens every year. Staff goes to the beach in the morning to properly dispose of any dead fish before the public arrives, she said, noting the fish kill can last until early July.

The staff digs a hole away from the shore where fish are buried, she said, noting the same happens at Hood Pond.

A Parks and Recreation crew was at the town beach yesterday pulling weeds and clearing out debris and rocks from the sand. They'll also clean up the fish found along the shoreline yesterday.

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