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

This house in the 600-block of Linden Avenue in Fairfield has a Día de Muertos theme for 2020. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
PHOTOS: Haunted Oak Bay

Residents spookify houses

A rare Short-eared owl was found dead in a Saanich backyard on Oct. 26 and will be sent for a necropsy to find out if it had ingested rat poison. (Photo courtesy Kimberly Adamec)
Rare owl found dead in Saanich yard to be sent for necropsy

Short-eared owl ‘vulnerable’ in B.C., owl advocate says

Police continue to investigate a break-and-enter in this Sidney jewelry store in the 2500-block of Beacon Avenue. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Thieves hit Sidney jewelry store

Sidney/North Saanich RCMP says incident is not part of a larger trend

Norm Scott, president of Royal Canadian Legion Branch #91, said plans for a new building will ensure long-term sustainability. (Black Press Media file photo)
Plans for new Legion in Langford include low-cost housing for seniors

Project could be before council in early 2021

The Starbucks at 3849 Cadboro Bay Rd. closed permanently on Sunday, Oct. 25. (Google Maps)
Cadboro Bay Starbucks closes despite petition signed by nearly 250 residents

Closure part of transition to more drive-thru locations, Starbucks spokesperson says

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

FILE – The Queen of Alberni ferry leaves the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal in Delta bound for Vancouver Island, Sunday, July 29, 2007. (CP PHOTO/Richard Lam) CANADA
Mechanical failure leaves nearly 200 passengers stranded on BC Ferries ship for hours

A tug arrived after dark to safely nudge the vessel into a berth so travellers could finally disembark

Ridge Meadows RCMP (Black Press)
Maple Ridge X-ray tech convicted of sexual assault dating back 30 years

Allen James Brooks is expected to be sentenced in January 2021

BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson leaves the stage after announcing he is stepping down as party leader, during a news conference in Burnaby, B.C., on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Too rural, not enough diversity, soul searching needed, say BC Liberals

Elections BC says there are about 600,000 mail-in and absentee ballots across the province still to count

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes his way to provide an update on the COVID pandemic in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Canada has reached a grim milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic, surpassing 10,000 novel coronavirus deaths. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Alberta COVID deaths pushes Canada past milestone of 10,000 deaths

Canada crossed the threshold of 5,000 deaths on May 12, a little over two months after the first was reported

An elderly woman wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past an advertisement for a television series in Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. has been under a COVID-19 state of emergency for more than half the year

Province has been under a state of emergency for 32 weeks – and counting

Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 to win the baseball World Series in Game 6 Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
L.A. Dodgers beat Rays 3-1 to win 1st World Series title since 1988

National League champs claim crown in six games

Seven-year-old Aaliyah Rosa was found dead in an apartment in Langley in July. (Langley Advance Times files)
Child’s body cold, no pulse: Off-duty cop testifies in Langley mother’s murder trial

The seven-year-old girl’s mother faces a first-degree murder charge

Most Read