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  • Writer's pictureNew Wave Fishing Academy

Can Fish Drown? The Answer Will Surprise You

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

This question may seem stupid but can fish drown? The immediate thought by most is of course not they live and breath in the water. Much to the surprise of most people fish can actually drown; well sort of.

By technical definition drowning is to "die through submersion in and inhalation of water." For humans this makes a lot fo sense because as we inhale water we lose the ability to obtain oxygen and suffocate. So we can consider defining drowning as suffocation by water

For fish this is a little more complicated....

Just like you and me fish also need oxygen to survive. Fortunately for fish they are able to extract oxygen from the water using their gills. By this point you may be thinking if they can "inhale" water and take the oxygen out how can they ever drown? For fish to drown it actually has nothing to do with the fish ability and everything to do with the water! If there isn't enough oxygen to take from the water the fish will suffocate just like we would!

can fish drown fish can drown livewell kill winter kill

Water can only hold a certain amount of oxygen in it. This is known as the dissolved oxygen content or DO usually measured in ppm or mg/L. The amount of DO in water depends on a number of factors but the most important is water temperature and rate of consumption. As water temperature increases it can hold less and less DO. On the other hand the higher biomass concentration the more oxygen will be consumed. So, if temperatures get really warm in a highy concentrated areas like a pond or small lake the dissolved oxygen concentration can drop so low that the water can become lethal to fish! Think about what happens when you put fish in a livewell on a hot summer day. By the end of the day they are belly up after consuming all the oxygen in the livewell! Another common situation where this can occur is in the winter on small ponds. As ice covers the surface no oxygen can make its way into the water (unless theres a creek inlet but its still a small amount). No new oxygen means the level of DO will drop as the winter progresses. If there is sufficient biomass consuming oxygen the DO level can drop to lethal levels and the pond will end up with a bunch of drowned fish! This phenomenon is also known as a winter kill.

So, despite the intuitive nature of the question YES FISH CAN DROWN although its a little more complicated than it is for humans. To learn more about fish biology and how you can take advantage of it to put more fish in the boat check out our course below:


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