A man fishing on the Puntledge River in Courtenay recently came across a number of dead salmon smolt and also noted a strange odour coming from the water. In this picture, a few can be seen lying under the water. Photo supplied

A man fishing on the Puntledge River in Courtenay recently came across a number of dead salmon smolt and also noted a strange odour coming from the water. In this picture, a few can be seen lying under the water. Photo supplied

Dead salmon smolt at Island river remain a mystery

Environment officials test Courtenay river after discovery of fish, noxious odour

A sport-fisher was fishing out on the Puntledge River in Courtenay on an afternoon this month when he came across a disturbing scene – and smell.

After moving once or twice over a few hours, Nate Orasuk come back to a spot near the Condensory Bridge in Courtenay and discovered hundreds of dead fish lying in the shallow waters of the river, gills up.

“We were fishing in a spot on where the water runs over rocks,” he said. “All over the pool were dead salmon smolt.”

Orasuk had been in the same spot only a couple of hours before on Oct. 6, and there was no sign of the dead smolt.

“I didn’t see anything dead then,” he said.

Wearing his waders, he leaned closer toward the surface of the water and got a whiff of something noxious. He has fished for much of his life and knows the odour of spawning salmon. This was not that smell but something more caustic.

“I could smell something,” he said. “I know a dead fish smell.”

Orasuk also knows the region well, and he had been fishing there in the days and weeks before.

“I’d been there on and off all through the weekend,” he added. “I love that river. It’s one of my favourite rivers…. That river is Courtenay’s swimming pool in the summer.”

He wondered if it was just him, so he asked another man fishing nearby about the smell. The man told him he could smell the same odour.

The following day, Orasuk went back out, and while he did not come across any more dead fish, he could still smell the noxious odour again.

Whatever happened to the young salmon seemed to happen quickly, though the incident remains a mystery. In light of the strange smell, he has questions about the water quality, as well as what it might do to the salmon run in a few years time when these fish are supposed to mature. In general, the coho run this year has been strong, he added.

RELATED STORY: Familiar fall sight in Puntledge River

Orasuk wondered if something had been flushed out of a city storm drain into the river and perhaps killed the salmon, so he got in touch with officials from different levels of government. Provincial and federal agencies have confirmed they are aware of the incident and are looking into it.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada said a fishery officer from DFO’s Conservation and Protection (C&P) program, Nanaimo Detachment field unit, conducted a site visit and was also in contact with Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC).

Environment and Climate Change Canada responded they were on the scene to take samples of the water, but as the investigation is still ongoing, they could not provide any details yet.’

“ECCC’s Enforcement Branch is aware of the incident at Puntledge River … and is working with partners and continuing to gather all of the information relevant to the incident. As the matter is ongoing, it would not be appropriate to provide further information at this time,” a department spokesperson told the Record.



mike.chouinard@comoxvalleyrecord.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Salmon

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

The volunteers at the Campbell River Seniors’ Centre have been waiting seven months to welcome people back to the facility, and are happy to have all the necessary safety precautions in place to do so, including a sign-in booth at the entrance for contact tracing requirements. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbel River Mirror
Campbell River Seniors’ Centre re-opens after seven months of COVID closure

‘If we close it again, it’s possible it won’t ever re-open, and the community needs this facility’

Another modular unit is lifted into place on the second floor of the new supportive housing complex being built at 580 Dogwood Street on Thursday this past week. Photo by Cleo Corbett/City of Campbell River
Campbell River’s newest supportive housing facility rises on Dogwood Street

Pre-fab modular construction means the building can go on the foundation in under five days

RCMP remind people to lock their doors after dark. Black Press file photo.
RCMP seeing jump in property crime and unlocked vehicles

Drivers also cautioned to stay aware of changing road conditions

(Image by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay)
QUIZ: A celebration of colour

Fall in British Columbia is a time to enjoy a spectrum of vivid colours

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Most Read