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

Busy day for Campbell River fire crews

Three incidents in rapid succession keep crews on their toes

New electric buses are coming to school districts. (Submitted photo)
New electric school buses will drive North Island forward

Travel on electric school buses is smoother, quieter, and healthier than traditional diesel buses

Destroyed window at Ministry of Social Development offices in Campbell River. Photo supplied by Campbell River RCMP
Police investigating arson in downtown Campbell River

Fire set at BC Employment and Assistance Office

May 3-9 was Mental Health Week, and the Campbell River RCMP is encouraging people, especially men, to seek emotional help if it’s needed. Black Press file photo
Campbell River RCMP encouraging men to seek emotional help if needed

‘Taking care of our Mental Health is not simply about accessing counselling,’ says Const. Maury Tyre

Campbell River’s waste collection schedule will be changing after Victoria Day. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror.
Campbell River Garbage pickup schedule changing after May Long Weekend

Pickup day will change after every statutory holiday

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

Police were on the scene of a fatal shooting in Abbotsford. (Black Press Media files)
B.C. government to give more than $8 million for programs to curb gang violence

221 not-for-profit projects led by local governments and school districts among others will receive a one-time grant

Gord Judson steers his log truck down a forest service road, using two-way radio and call signals to mark his position for oncoming traffic. (B.C. Forest Safety Council)
Planning some B.C. wilderness fishing? Don’t catch a log truck

Remote recreation areas bracing for heavy pandemic pressure

Former University of British Columbia student Stephanie Hale, 22. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff Bassett
Human Rights Tribunal to hear complaint against UBC Okanagan for ‘mishandling’ sexual assault report

Stephanie Hale did not return to campus after the student she alleges attacked her was cleared of wrongdoing

Jennifer Coffman, owner of Truffle Pigs in Field, B.C., poses beside her business sign on Thursday, May 6, 2021, in this handout photo. Her restaurant and lodge have been hit hard by a closure of a section of the Trans-Canada Highway and by the British Columbia government discouraging Alberta residents from visiting during the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Coffman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘Why we survive’: B.C. boundary towns struggle without Albertans during pandemic

Jennifer Coffman’s restaurant is located in the tiny community of Field, which relies on tourism

NEW CUTLINE Payphone use is declining dramatically. (Black Press Files)

This payphone sits just east of TD Bank in Parksville, on Harrison Avenue. (Emily Vance photo)
Last call approaches for Vancouver Island payphones?

Some payphones don’t get used for days as mobile phones diminishing need

Garden centre manager Jack Olszewski and Chris Beaudoin say business has grown by 50 per cent at the Sooke Home Hardware Store. (Rick Stiebel - Sooke News Mirror)
Flower power: COVID restrictions fuel bloom boom on Vancouver Island’

More people seeking flowers to add colour, says Sooke landscaper

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start releasing neighbourhood-specific COVID numbers after data leak

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Ladysmith RCMP safely escorted the black bear to the woods near Ladysmith Cemetary. (Town of Ladysmith/Facebook photo)
Black bear tranquillized, relocated after wandering around residential Ladysmith

A juvenile black bear was spotted near 2nd Avenue earlier Friday morning

Most Read